Because hepatitis C doesn't always cause symptoms, you may not know you have the virus. Routine screening for hepatitis C is not typically performed unless you think you have come in to contact with a person infected with hepatitis C or if you were born between 1945 and 1965 (baby boomer screening). If you think you may have hepatitis C, your health care provider can test for it with a blood test.
The CDC recommends that you have a blood test for hepatitis C if any of the following are true:
Never share needles. Intravenous drug users are at greatest risk of becoming infected with hepatitis C because many share needles. In addition to needles, the virus may be present in other equipment used with illicit drugs. Even sharing a straw or dollar bill when snorting cocaine could lead to hepatitis C transmission. Bleeding in the nasal passages frequently occurs when taking cocaine this way, and microscopic droplets may enter the straw and be passed on to the next user, even if they can't be seen.
Avoid direct exposure to blood or blood products. If you are a medical worker or health care provider, take precautionary measures to avoid coming into direct contact with blood. Any tools that draw blood in the workplace should be discarded safely or sterilized appropriately to prevent hepatitis C infection.
Don't share personal care items. Many items that we use on a daily basis will occasionally be exposed to blood. Often people will cut themselves while shaving, or their gums will bleed while brushing their teeth. Even small amounts of blood can potentially infect someone, so it is important not to share items such as toothbrushes, razors, nail and hair clippers, and scissors. If you are already infected with hepatitis C, make sure you keep your personal items, such as razors and toothbrushes, separate and out of reach from children.
Choose tattoo and piercing parlors carefully. Only use a licensed tattoo and piercing artist who follows appropriate sanitary procedures. A new, disposable needle and ink well should be used for each customer. If in doubt, inquire about their disposable products and sanitary procedures before getting a tattoo or piercing.
Practice safe sex. It is rare for hepatitis C to be transmitted through sexual intercourse, but there is greater risk of getting hepatitis C if you have a sexually transmitted disease, HIV, multiple sex partners, or engages in rough sex.
How Hepatitis C Is Not Spread
Hepatitis C is not spread by casual contact, kissing, hugging, breastfeeding, sharing eating utensils, coughing, or sneezing.
Protecting the Blood Supply
One of the main problems with preventing hepatitis C transmission is that most people who are infected do not display symptoms initially. Many only find out when they have a blood test for an unrelated reason. Until relatively recently, this often resulted in infected blood and organs being used in transfusions and transplants.
As of July 1992, all blood and organ donations are screened for the hepatitis C virus. Although not perfect, it reduces the risk of contracting the virus to 0.001% per unit transfused. Anyone who received a blood transfusion or organ donation prior to July 1992 should be tested for the virus.
As of 1987, all blood products for the treatment of hemophilia are treated to remove infectious viruses, such as hepatitis C and HIV. If you took any blood products before 1987, however, you should be tested for hepatitis C.