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Hepatitis C Transmission: Protecting Our World

bleachQuestion: How long can hepatitis C virus live on a surface and still maintain its ability to infect?

Answer: Up to six weeks. In an article published in the April 2014 Journal of Infectious Diseases (Hepatitis C Virus Maintains Infectivity for Weeks after Drying on Inanimate Surfaces at Room Temperature: Implications for Risks of Transmission), Elijah Paintsil and colleagues tested hepatitis C under a variety of conditions, trying to mimic average circumstances that people may come in to contact with it on surfaces. Hepatitis C virus remained potentially infectious on surfaces for up to six weeks. Infectivity increased with high viral load, temperature, and humidity. Commercial antiseptics, such as bleach and alcohol reduce hepatitis C infectivity, but only if used as directed and the antiseptics have been maintained at full strength.

This research is disturbing, but may explain some of the hepatitis C infections in people with no known risk factors. The authors discuss patients whose only risk factors were hospital admissions, despite having no medical procedures. It opens the door for a broader discussion of how people may acquire hepatitis C.

Does acquiring hepatitis C from a surface seem far-fetched? Perhaps, but we need to begin to understand the possibilities so we can stop this virus from infecting others. We are able to cure the majority of hepatitis C patients, but stopping further infection is a much better public health strategy.

How do you clean up blood spills? The CDC recommends: “Any blood spills — including dried blood, which can still be infectious — should be cleaned using a dilution of one part household bleach to 10 parts water. Gloves should be worn when cleaning up blood spills.” Be sure you have fresh bleach on hand. Keep the cap tightly closed, and store bleach in the container in which you purchased it. Old, poorly maintained bleach may compromise your results.

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