Can I Give Hepatitis C to Others?
Of course, avoiding the spread of the Hepatitis C virus is an important public health issue, but keep in mind that normal everyday contact with others will not spread the virus.
People diagnosed with Hepatitis C do not need to become socially isolated, but some common sense precautions are necessary.
- They should not share any needles or other equipment if they use drugs.
- They should not donate blood, nor should they donate any other organs. Although there is a critical shortage of organs donated for transplants, Hepatitis C virus is readily transmitted to recipients with organs transplanted into them, and all potential organ donors are tested for Hepatitis C before their organs are used in transplant operations.
- People diagnosed with Hepatitis C should, as a routine, not share razors or toothbrushes with anyone.
- As a courtesy they could let any health care professional (physician, nurse, dentist, podiatrist, etc.) who cares for them and who may be exposed to their blood, know that they have hepatitis C.
Remember, Hepatitis C is transmitted through exposure to infected blood through the skin into a non-infected person. This occurs through:
- injection drug use – currently the most common method of transmission in the United States (recent surveys of active injection drug users indicate that approximately 33% of those aged 18-30 years are infected with HCV; older/former injection drug users have a prevalence of 70-90% being infected).
- through receiving donated blood, blood products or organs that are infected (this was once a common means of transmission but is now rare in the United State due to extensive blood screening beginning in 1992).
- needlstick injuries in health care settings.
- birth to an HCV-infected mother (although this occurs in only 4 of every 100 babies born to HIV-infected mothers).
- sex through an HCV-infected person (this is rare as it is a very ineffective means of transmission).
- sharing personal items that are contaminated with infected blood, such as razors or toothbrushes (just like sexual transmission, this is a rare and ineffective means of transmission).
Transmitting HCV through sex is extremely rare, but it is certainly prudent to advise any sexual partners of any infection that you know you have. Although the risk of transmission of hepatitis C by unprotected intercourse – that is without the use of condoms – is far less than the risk of transmitting many other infections including hepatitis B, people with multiple sexual partners should always practice safe sex. Monogamous long-term partners should make an informed decision as to whether or not to change their sexual practices.
Hepatitis C is seldom transmitted from mother to baby. If transmission does occur it does so at the time of birth. The risk of the baby getting the infection during delivery is approximately 4% and there is no methods availalbe to prevent transmission. Because the antibodies for HCV from the mother might still be present in young babies, it is best to wait until the baby is 18 months old before being tested. The Centers for Disease Control recommend that if a diagnosis is desired before 18 months of age, testing for HCV RNA can be preformed at or after the baby’s first well-child visit (around 1-2 months). However, this testing should be repeated at a subsequent visit regardless of the initial test result.
There is no evidence that HCV can be spread to an infant through breastfeeding. Although, HCV-positive mothers should consider refraining from breastfeeding if their nipples are cracked or bleeding.
Transfused Blood or Blood Products
The risk in the United States is considerred to be less than 1 chance per 2 million units transfused. This is due to more advanced screening tests for HCV used by blood banks. However, prior to 1992 (when blood screening for HCV became available) blood transfusion was the leading means of HCV transmission in the United States.
There is no need to change daily family or personal routines simply because one member of a family has this infection. It is not necessary to use separate bathrooms or eating utensils, for example. While transmission does occur within a household it is not often. If it is spread within a household it is likely a direct result of through-the-skin exposure to the blood of the infected person.
It is important that one does not limit expressions of affection. Hug your children often.
For more information regarding the Hepatitis C, visit http://www.hepatitiscentral.com/hepatitis-c/what-is-hepatitis-c.html.