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Protecting Others From Hepatitis C

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If you've just been diagnosed with hepatitis C, you may worry about passing on the virus to a loved one. If you've had the disease for a long time without knowing it, you may dwell on every little incident in the past where you might have accidentally exposed a family member to the disease.

"Worrying about passing on the disease is pretty common," says Alan Franciscus, executive director of the Hepatitis C Support Project in San Francisco. "I see a lot of people who are HCV-positive who are more worried about transmitting the virus than their loved ones are."

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Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by an infection with the hepatitis C virus. The liver becomes inflamed and swollen and stops working as it should. Hepatitis C is a serious disease because the liver is needed to remove toxins that build up in the blood. Hepatitis C can destroy the liver and cause cirrhosis and death. It is the main cause of liver transplants in the world. After being infected with the hepatitis C virus, 75%-85% of people will develop a chronic, long-term, infection. Once...

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It's important to remember that hepatitis C isn't easy to catch. If you take a few precautions, it's almost impossible to pass on the disease to someone else.

How Hepatitis C Is -- and Isn't -- Spread

Hepatitis C is spread only through exposure to an infected person's blood. It cannot be spread through:

As you can see, everyday contact is not risky. "The transmission rate between people in a household is probably just a little above zero," says Howard J. Worman, MD, associate professor of medicine at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.

However, hepatitis C can be spread through blood. So follow these common precautions:

  • Don't share razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, or anything else that could have your blood on it. Cover any open wounds or sores with bandages.
  • Carefully dispose of tampons, sanitary napkins, tissues, used bandages, and anything else that might have your blood on it.
  • If you're using injected street drugs, get into a treatment program. At the very least, don't share needles or equipment with anyone else.
  • Don't donate blood, organs, tissue, or semen.

What About Sex With Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C can spread through sexual intercourse, but it's rare. And it's extremely rare among monogamous couples. In fact, the CDC considers the risk of sexual transmission between monogamous couples so low that it doesn't even recommend using condoms. Also, there's no evidence that hepatitis C is spread by oral sex.

However, if you have multiple partners you should take precautions. Using condoms will not only protect your partners from hepatitis C but also will protect you from other dangerous diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis B.

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