Living With HepC

How to keep from passing it on

In order for hepatitis C to be transmitted there must be blood to blood contact. This means that the blood from someone with hepatitis C would have to get into the bloodstream (cut or open wound) of someone else. There are certain risk factors that are important to be aware of that can help prevent passing it on.

People with hepatitis C often worry about giving it to others that they live with. However, it would be very hard to transmit HCV unless there is direct blood-to-blood contact. Things like razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers and other personal hygiene items can spread HCV, but it is difficult to do so.

For example, in order for someone to get HCV from a toothbrush there would have to be blood from someone who has HCV on the toothbrush, then someone would have to take that same toothbrush and brush their teeth. Next there would have to be an open cut or wound in the mouth for the HCV infected blood to get into the bloodstream.

Things to consider are:

  • Anything that has cut you
  • Anything that you drip blood on or has soaked up your blood
  • Anything that you have inserted through your skin into your body

In general you need to be aware that if you are infected with hepatitis C a tiny drop of your blood could infect someone else if it gets into their body. So it's obviously better to take precautions and this section examines ways to be really safe.

However, it is far from clear that all these precautions are strictly necessary but it's important to be careful rather than paranoid about the risk of infecting others.

You may also feel you would like to warn people so that they can take extra precautions. This would include:

  • Phlebotomists (nurses who take your blood), who would be at risk if they accidentally prick themselves
  • Tattooists
  • Body/ear piercers
  • Acupuncturists, who might transfer the virus to someone else if they have not taken adequate precautions
  • Dentists

Even though the risk is very low it is still important to be careful to make sure that others in the house are protected. Cover all toothbrushes, razor blades, nail clippers or any item that might have blood on it – even if you can’t see it.

Keep all personal hygiene items away from other people’s hygiene items.

Remember

HCV is not spread by casual contact such as hugging, sharing eating utensils, food or water.

Risk Factors

In order to understand whether someone has been put at risk of contracting the hepatitis C virus (HCV) it is important to understand that a number of factors need to be in place for infection to occur:

  • Firstly the virus has to have a means of entering the body
  • Secondly there has to be sufficient quantity of virus
  • Thirdly the virus needs to be of a specific quality.

While blood is not the only body fluid that can contain the hepatitis C virus, it is in the blood that the highest concentrations of virus are found and as a consequence only a small trace of blood may have sufficient virus present to cause infection. Furthermore the virus can survive in dried blood on everyday surfaces at room temperature for at least 16 hours but not longer than 4 days. However, it can survive longer in a confined environment such as inside a syringe.      

The virus must have a means of entering another persons body in order for transmission to occur. If the virus is able to directly enter the blood stream via a needle or through a blood transfusion then the risk of infection is very high.

These three factors form the basis for assessing risk reduction. In addition it is useful to consider the number of times a person may have been exposed to the virus. A single exposure to an infected needle may be all that it takes for transmission via this route, whereas a single exposure via unprotected sexual intercourse is unlikely to result in transmission.

Because hepatitis C is so efficiently transmitted by the sharing of IDU equipment, the disease has come to be stigmatised as a drug-addicts' disease. In fact there are a multitude of ways you could have been put at risk of contracting the disease. Beyond that, some people who have contracted the disease have no known risk factors.

In order to determine whether you may have been exposed to risk of hepatitis C infection it would be useful to ask yourself whether you have been exposed to any of the known transmission routes and how frequent those exposures may have been. It is easy to determine some transmission routes as high or low risk, but for many potential transmission routes estimating risk is very difficult because it depends on a number of immeasurable factors.

For example risk from clippers used by hairdressers would depend on how or whether they are cleaned, how often they are cleaned, how many customers may be exposed to the same clippers, how the clippers are used, and probably many other variables.

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