How is hepatitis C transmitted?

Hepatitis C is mainly spread when the blood of an infected person enters the bloodstream of someone who is not infected. Blood is the main source of infection, however, the virus is present in other body fluids in varying levels.

There are multiple ways that a person could be at risk of hepatitis C:

Sharing equipment to inject / snort drugs

This includes steroids and other performance and image enhancing products. An episode of sharing equipment only needs to have happened once in order for there to be a risk. Sharing equipment to inject drugs is the most common way hepatitis C is transmitted in Scotland. Equipment includes needles, syringes, water, filters, spoons, swabs, acidifiers, tourniquets and straws (for snorting drugs). For every injecting episode, new sterile equipment should be used. Local addiction services  and some pharmacies across Ayrshire can provide an Injecting Equipment Provision service.

 

Tattooing, body piercing and acupuncture

Having a tattoo, piercing or acupuncture may pose a risk if unsterile equipment is used. The risk is very low if licensed premises are used, however the risk increases if tattoos etc. are performed in areas where infection control procedures may be poor. Clean sterile equipment (and ink) should be used for every person.

 

Sharing personal items

Whilst there is no risk from social contact, it is recommended that sharing personal equipment should be avoided. This includes items such as razors, nail clippers (or any item that can cut or scratch the skin) and toothbrushes that may be contaminated with blood.

 

Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex

Sex poses a low risk of infection but it can happen. Transmission via oral sex is rare but there is a low risk – especially if blood or sores are present. The risk of sexual transmission of hepatitis C is increased if there is co-infection with HIV. Safer sex e.g. using condoms or dams would be recommended.

 

Receiving medical / dental treatment / blood transfusion or blood products in countries where infection control procedures may be poor

There is little to no risk of acquiring hepatitis C in the UK from a blood transfusion or blood products. Since 1991 all blood in the UK is screened for hepatitis C. Receiving blood or blood products in some countries where there may be no blood screening or where infection control procedures are poor may pose a risk.  Receiving other medical or dental treatment in countries of a high prevalence or where infection control procedures may be poor may provide a source of infection.

 

Mother to baby

Mother to baby transmission does occur but is not common. The risk is greater if the mother is co-infected with HIV. Mothers are not routinely screened for hepatitis C.

 

Occupational injury

Healthcare and other emergency workers may be at risk from accidental needlestick injuries, injury fro sharp objects or direct exposure to blood to breaks in the skin.

 

You cannot catch hepatitis C via social contact such as hugging, kissing, shaking hands, sharing cutlery or crockery or sitting on the same toilet seat