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Hepatitis and Sex: Frequently Asked Questions

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Are men and women equally at risk of getting and spreading hepatitis through sex? 

The risk is determined by a person’s behavior, not his/her gender, although some studies have shown that it is easier for a man to transmit HCV to a woman than vice versa.

Men who have sex with men are 10 to 15 times more likely than the general population to be infected with hepatitis B.

How can I make sure my partner is free of hepatitis before we have sex?  

There is no surefire symptom or sign to indicate that someone has hepatitis. Some infected people look perfectly healthy even in advanced stages of illness. Experts recommend talking openly with sex partners about the risk of hepatitis and other sexually transmitted infections.

Of course, if you notice that someone has yellowing of the skin or eyes (a condition known as jaundice), consider that a red flag. Other symptoms of hepatitis include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, joint or abdominal pain, and clay-colored bowel movements. Blood tests are available to help determine if someone has hepatitis that could spread through sex.

Are some sex acts especially likely to transmit hepatitis?  

Any sexual activity that might cause abrasions, cuts, or other trauma is especially risky.

Anal sex is thought to be more risky than vaginal sex. And both forms of sex are more risky than oral sex. Oral-anal contact is also risky. To minimize the risk of viral transmission, experts say that any sexually active person not in a mutually monogamous relationship should take precautions, such as placing a barrier, such as a condom, dental dam, female condom, and finger cots between you and another person’s body fluids and blood in addition to getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

Is it possible to catch hepatitis from kissing? 

Catching hepatitis by kissing an infected person is unlikely -- although deep kissing that involves the exchange of large amounts of saliva might result in HBV, especially if there are cuts or abrasions in the mouth of the infected person.

Can vibrators and sex toys spread hepatitis? 

That’s possible, because the hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body for a week or more. Immersing the vibrator in boiling water may reduce the risk. But the safest advice is to avoid the use of these products until your sexual partner is vaccinated.  

How effective are condoms at stopping sexual transmission of hepatitis?

Latex condoms are believed to be at least 99% effective. Unless you’re in a mutually monogamous relationship, it’s best to use a condom in every sexual encounter. Some experts recommend sticking with a plain condom. Flavored or scented condoms may be more likely to fail. Don’t use an oil-based lubricant, as it can degrade latex.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on July 16, 2014

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