Protecting Yourself & Others
Questions? Call 888-443-4372 (HEPC)
- How is hepatitis C transmitted?
- How easy is it to get hepatitis C through sex?
- What is the risk of transmission of hepatitis C from mother to child?
- If people get hepatitis C will they always have it?
- Can people become reinfected with hepatitis C?
- If people have hepatitis C, will they get sick or die from it?
- Are there things that can make hepatitis worse or make the symptoms appear faster?
- What are some things that someone with hepatitis C should avoid?
Hepatitis C is a bloodborne virus, and is transmitted through direct blood-to-blood contact. The most common ways for hepatitis C to be transmitted is through sharing needles or injection equipment with an infected person, having had a blood transfusion prior to 1992, sharing personal care items such has razors that could have infected blood on them, and from mother to child during childbirth. In rare cases, hepatitis C can be transmitted through sex.
It is possible to transmit hepatitis C through sex, but it is not an efficient transmission method. It is much more likely to get hepatitis C through sharing needles or "works," or having had a blood transfusion before 1992. According to the Hepatitis C Support Project, if someone is in a long-term relationship with a person who has hepatitis C, there is only a small chance (up to 3% over 20 years) that they could get hepatitis C from their sexual partner. (This assumes that neither partner is having sex outside the relationship.) However, the chances of getting infected with hepatitis C through sexual activity is higher among people who have many sexual partners or are in so called high-risk groups (men who have sex with men, prostitutes, people with sexually transmitted infections, and people who practice rough sex.
The risk of hepatitis C transmission from mother to child averages 5% (about a 1 in 20 chance) or less. There is no known way to reduce the risk.
About 15% to 25% (about one-sixth to one-fourth) of the people who get infected with hepatitis C clear the virus completely out of their bodies naturally. This means that those people are no longer infected and can no longer spread the virus to other people. However, the remaining 75% to 85% of people infected with hepatitis C will become chronically infected. These people will always be capable of transmitting the virus to others through blood. Nobody knows why some people clear the virus and some people don't. There is no way to know in advance who would naturally clear it and who would not. However, a test can be done to determine whether or not a person still has hepatitis C. Some people who have not naturally cleared the virus are able to clear it after being treated with medications for hepatitis C. However, it is important to note that, once hepatitis C is cleared, the person can be reinfected if exposed to the virus again.
Yes. People who have cleared the virus either naturally or through medication can become infected again. Also, people who have active hepatitis C can become infected with additional genotypes (strains) of hepatitis C.
Interestingly, the relatively small proportion of people who develop acute illness symptoms as a result of hepatitis C infection tend to recover from their illness and have no lasting liver damage. About 60% to 70% of persons who are chronically infected with hepatitis C develop chronic liver disease. About 5% to 20% develop cirrhosis over a period of 20 to 30 years after being infected, and about 1% to 5% ultimately die from cirrhosis or liver cancer. Most people with hepatitis C will live for more than 20 years without having any serious symptoms. However, people who are coinfected with HIV may progress to liver disease more quickly.
Yes. If someone has hepatitis C, there are several things that can increase the likelihood that the virus will cause liver damage.
Drinking alcohol (any amount) is very dangerous to a person who has hepatitis C since alcohol also causes liver damage.
In HIV and hepatitis C coinfected people, the risk of developing liver damage is much higher than in those people who only have hepatitis C. When people are coinfected with HIV and hepatitis C, they tend to get sick from hepatitis C sooner than if they only had hepatitis C.
Some medications are hard on the liver and generally should not be taken when people have hepatitis C. However, sometimes an urgent medical need for a particular medication overrides the possibility of liver damage. This is something for people to talk about with their doctors.
Avoiding alcohol (even small amounts) is very important. Tylenol and other over-the-counter and prescription drugs can sometimes cause liver damage. High iron diets may also cause problems. Good nutrition, regular exercise, and adequate sleep are helpful in keeping the liver healthy. We recommend speaking with your doctor or hepatitis specialist about all the medications and supplements you are taking to see whether they are safe for the liver.