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Consequently, it makes sense to follow the lead of health-care workers and assume that all blood is infectious. “Any blood exposure can transmit hepatitis B and C,” says John W. Ward, MD, director of the division of viral hepatitis at the CDC.

“Of course, if someone needs first aid, you don’t want to avoid helping them. If blood contact does occur, wash the blood off as soon as possible.”

4. Beware of needles. 

It’s possible to get hepatitis from hypodermic needles and the tools used to create tattoos and piercings. So be wary of them -- and encourage family members to do likewise. If a family member is determined to get a piercing or tattoo, he should get it only from a licensed professional working in a well-maintained facility.

Don’t be shy about sharing your concerns about infection control -- whether the person wielding the needle is a tattoo artist or your own physician.

“It’s good to express your concern to the people in your doctor’s office,” Ward says. “Let them know that you are concerned about the level of infection control in the practice.” 

5. Know when to share -- and when not to. 

Sharing works well with toys, tools, and brownies but is a terrible idea when it comes to toothbrushes, razor blades, nail files, and other personal items. This includes medical equipment and needles.

These items can harbor traces of the owner’s blood. If the owner has hepatitis, using them can transmit the disease.

“We’ve even seen a rash of outbreaks of hepatitis B related to diabetics sharing their blood glucose-monitoring equipment, mainly in elder-care facilities,” Ward says. Also, if you’ve had hepatitis B or C, don’t donate blood, organs, or tissue.

6. Keep sex safe. 

All three main forms of hepatitis can be spread by sexual contact. So it’s important to know something about your partner’s personal history -- and to use a latex condom unless you’re sure you are both monogamous and uninfected. Be aware that certain sex acts are particularly risky.

“Any sexual practice with an increased likelihood of trauma, including anal sex and rough sex, is associated with an increased risk of transmission of both HCV and HBV,” Palmer says. What’s more, she says, “The likelihood of becoming infected with HBV grows with the number of sexual partners a person has.”

7. Watch what you eat and drink. 

Even if you and your family members are careful about hand washing before eating and after using the bathroom, it’s possible to get hepatitis from food that’s been prepared by people who aren’t quite so fastidious.

In general, fresh fruits, vegetables, sandwiches, salads, and other uncooked foods are more likely than cooked foods to transmit hepatitis. And because shellfish is sometimes harvested from contaminated water, think twice before eating raw mussels, clams, oysters, and shrimp. Traveling in a country with poor sanitation? Avoid tap water and uncooked foods. Consume ice cubes only if you’re sure they were made from bottled water. 

What Puts You at Risk?

See how viral hepatitis spreads. Discover where the risk is greatest.
See slideshow