Liver Hepatitis C Transmission

Transmission of hepatitis C occurs after contact with contaminated blood or fluids. Learn how the hepatitis C virus can be passed from one person to another, and how early screening may improve your chances of successful hepatitis C treatment.

Intravenous (IV) Drug Use and Hepatitis C

IV drug use is the most common method of transmission of hepatitis C in the United States, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2010). Individuals who inject illegal drugs, like heroin, are more likely to be exposed to infected blood. The hepatitis C virus can survive on a needle and infect an IV drug user when the needle is inserted under the skin.

Older and long-term users have a higher risk of contracting hepatitis C, indicating an increased risk over time with IV drug use. According to the CDC (2009), 48 percent of individuals newly diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2007 reported intravenous drug use.

Hepatitis C Transmission: Tattooing and Body Piercing

Tattooing and body piercing can also increase your risk of catching hepatitis C, as both use needles that penetrate the skin. Improperly sterilized needles may contain traces of contaminated blood, allowing the hepatitis C virus to enter your body. Transmission of hepatitis C may also occur if the piercing or tattoo artist doesn’t properly wash his hands or use gloves.

If you’re considering getting a tattoo or piercing, choose a reputable shop with trained employees. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the shop’s sterilization practices and how they prevent disease transmission.

Hepatitis C: Blood Transfusions and Organ Transplants

Before 1992, individuals who received blood transfusions or organ transplants were at risk for contracting blood-borne diseases, including hepatitis C. However, improved methods of disease screening in potential donors substantially reduced this risk. In the case of blood transfusions, for example, the CDC (2010) reports that the risk of developing hepatitis C is now less than one case per two million units transfused.

Less Common Methods of Hepatitis C Transmission

Rarely, you may develop hepatitis C symptoms by means other than IV drug use and contaminated transplant or transfusion, such as sexual contact. Multiple sexual partners and failure to use condoms increases this risk. A mother infected with hepatitis C may pass the virus to her children during childbirth, although breastfeeding isn’t a method of transmission of hepatitis C.

If you’re a healthcare worker, you run a small risk of developing hepatitis C symptoms if you’re stuck by a needle used on a hepatitis C patient.

Early Detection and Hepatitis C Treatment

Most patients won’t experience hepatitis C symptoms until they’ve experienced significant liver damage. If you’re in one of the above-mentioned risk groups, screening may identify this disease earlier than later, increasing your odds of successful hepatitis C treatment.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Morbidity and mortality weekly report: Surveillance for acute viral hepatitis-United States, 2007. Retrieved September 21, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/ss/ss5803.pdf.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Hepatitis C FAQs for health professionals. Retrieved September 21, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HCV/HCVfaq.htm#section2.

Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Hepatitis C. Retrieved September 21, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hepatitis-c/DS00097.

Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Tattoos: Understand risks and precautions. Retrieved September 21, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/tattoos-and-piercings/MC00020.

Medical News Today. (2005). Mother to child transmission of hepatitis c virus, breastfeeding does not increase risk. Retrieved September 21, 2010, from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/32915.php.