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Hepatitis C Risks & Complications

How is hepatitis C transmitted?

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is commonly spread through contact with the blood of an infected person. The spread of hepatitis C can result from sharing needles, reusing razors or other sharp objects used by a hepatitis C positive person. Healthcare workers who handle contaminated needles or blood may also contract the virus. In addition, infants who are born to mothers with a hepatitis C infection may contract the virus at birth. Although less common, hepatitis C can also be transmitted via sexual contact with a person infected by the hepatitis C virus.

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Hepatitis C is a liver infection that is symptomless 80% of the time. When it does present symptoms, they can mimic the flu. About 3.2 million people in the US have Hepatitis C and 3 out of 4 who are infected don’t even know they have it.

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Can I get hepatitis C through sexual contact?

Yes, the CDC estimates the risk of contracting hepatitis C through sexual contact is low, although your chances increase if you engage in sex with multiple partners, have tested positive for other STDs, engage in rough sex or if you are HIV-positive. Aside from blood, body fluids that can contain hepatitis C include semen and vaginal secretions.

Can I unknowingly transmit hepatitis C?

Yes, it is very possible to unknowingly transmit hepatitis C. Many people infected with hepatitis C are not aware of their condition because the virus does not always display symptoms. As a result, an individual with hepatitis C may inadvertently transmit the virus to others.

Can hepatitis C virus survive outside the body?

Yes, hepatitis C virus can survive outside the body at normal room temperatures, on environmental surfaces, for a minimum of 16 hours, however, the virus cannot last longer than 4 days outside the body.

What ways are hepatitis C not spread or transmitted?

Hepatitis C is not spread or transmitted through kissing, holding hands, coughing, sneezing, sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding or hugging. It is also not transmitted through food or water.

Do mosquito bites spread hepatitis C?

No, there are no known cases of hepatitis C being transmitted via mosquitoes or other insect bites. When mosquitoes bite, they send their saliva into the skin, which means mosquitoes spread diseases mainly through saliva. Since hepatitis C is a bloodborne disease, it cannot be spread through mosquito bites.

Can a pregnant mother pass hepatitis C to her baby?

Yes, the chance of a pregnant mother transmitting hepatitis C to her baby is possible. The CDC estimates that approximately 1 in 20 babies born to mothers with hepatitis C will contract the virus. This risk becomes greater if the mother is also HIV-positive.

What happens if hepatitis C is left untreated?

Acute (new) hepatitis C infections become chronic or long-term when your body fails to eliminate the virus. About 75-80 percent of acute Hepatitis C patients will develop chronic (lifelong) infections. If the disease is left untreated, it could lead to serious liver problems like liver cancer, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and complete liver failure. People with cirrhosis could develop symptoms like yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), weight loss, vomiting, nausea, swollen stomach, fatigue and total loss of liver function.

Is hepatitis C preventable?

You can prevent contracting hepatitis C virus by taking the following simple steps:

  • Do not share toiletries like razors or toothbrushes with anyone else
  • Make sure all tattoo and piercing equipment has been properly sterilized
  • Use condoms during sexual contact
  • Always wear protective equipment such as gloves, masks and gowns when coming into contact with blood
  • Stay away from intravenous drug use or sterilize all needles or drug equipment before use

HIV and hepatitis C

HIV breaks down your body's defense mechanisms, thereby making you more susceptible to contracting hepatitis C if exposed to it. HIV and hepatitis C co-infection is very common among intravenous drug users: Between 50 and 90 percent of people infected with HIV who use intravenous drugs are also infected with the hepatitis C virus.

  1. "Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for the Public | CDC." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm
  2. Prasad, Mona R., and Jonathan R. Honegger. "Hepatitis C Virus in Pregnancy." American Journal of Perinatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3862252/
  3. Paintsil, Elijah, Mawuena Binka, Amisha Patel, Brett D. Lindenbach, and Robert Heimer. "Hepatitis C Virus Maintains Infectivity for Weeks after Drying on Inanimate Surfaces at Room Temperature: Implications for Risks of Transmission." The Journal of Infectious Diseases. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3969546/
  4. "Protect Yourself — Get Tested." North Dakota Department of Health. https://www.ndhealth.gov/disease/hepatitis/GetTested/

Medically Reviewed by on Jun 18, 2019

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