Hepatitis C Prevention

The hepatitis C virus can be transmitted only through blood. But exposure to tiny amounts of blood is enough to infect you.

How to Prevent the Spread of Hep C

Here are some steps you can take to help prevent becoming infected with hepatitis C.

  • Never share needles. Intravenous drug users have the highest chance of getting infected with hepatitis C because many share needles. Besides needles, the virus may be present in other equipment used with illicit drugs. Even sharing a straw or dollar bill when snorting cocaine could transmit hepatitis C. Bleeding in the nose frequently happens 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, avoid coming into direct contact with blood. Any tools that draw blood in the workplace should be thrown out safely or sterilized 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 infect someone, so it is important not to share items such as toothbrushes, razors, nail and hair clippers, and scissors. If you already have hepatitis C, make sure you keep your personal items, such as razors and toothbrushes, separate and out of children’s reach.
  • Choose tattoo and piercing parlors carefully. Only use a licensed tattoo and piercing artist who does the right sanitary procedures. A new, disposable needle and ink well should be used for each customer. If in doubt, ask 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 a higher chance of getting hepatitis C if you have HIV, another sexually transmitted disease, multiple sex partners, or if you engage in rough sex.

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How Hepatitis C Is Not Spread

Hepatitis C is not known to spread by casual contact, kissing, hugging, breastfeeding, sharing eating utensils, coughing, or sneezing. If a mom has hepatitis C and her nipples are cracked and bleeding, she should stop nursing until her nipples have healed. Then she can resume nursing.

Protecting the Blood Supply

One of the main problems with preventing hepatitis C is that most people who are infected don’t show symptoms at first. Many only find out when they have a blood test for an unrelated reason. Until relatively recently, this often led to 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, only about 1 in 2 million blood transfusions may transmit hepatitis C. Anyone who received a blood transfusion or organ donation before 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. But if you took any blood products before 1987, you should be tested for hepatitis C.

Is There a Hepatitis C Vaccine?

There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection. Researchers at Canada’s University of Alberta, the U.K.’s Oxford University, and the University of Ulsan in South Korea are looking into it, and clinical trials are underway in the U.S.

But if you have it, you should get vaccinated for hepatitis A and hepatitis B.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on December 11, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: "Chronic Hepatitis C: Current Disease Management."

CDC: "Recommendations for Prevention and Control of Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) Infection and HCV-Related Chronic Disease."

MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine: "U.S. hepatitis C cases down sharply since 1980s."

The Hepatitis C Trust: "Living with Hepatitis C: Transmission Prevention."

Clinical Trials.gov: “Staged Phase I/II Hepatitis C Prophylactic Vaccine.”

Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology: “Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute.”

Science Translational Medicine: “Novel Adenovirus-Based Vaccines Induce Broad and Sustained T Cell Responses to HCV in Man.”

Scientific Reports: “Preclinical evaluation of multi antigenic HCV DNA vaccine for the prevention of Hepatitis C virus infection.”

UpToDate: “Overview of the management of chronic hepatitis C virus infection.”

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