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Can Saliva Transmit Hepatitis C?

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. March 8, 2007

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With over 5 million Americans infected, the Hepatitis C virus is the most common cause of liver disease today. Although it is believed to be primarily transmitted through blood to blood contact, there are indications that other means of contracting Hepatitis C are possible. Of primary interest to those concerned with the number one cause of liver disease is the possibility of transmitting Hepatitis C via saliva.

As the most common chronic blood borne infection in the United States, the concentration of Hepatitis C virus in a drop of infected blood is exponentially higher than the concentration of HIV in a drop of infected blood. This explains why it is important to avoid anything that could possibly be tainted with any amount of blood. While not normally found in urine, semen, vaginal/cervical fluids, feces or saliva, injury or illness may cause some of these substances to be contaminated with blood.

In nearly half the cases of Hepatitis C, the infected individuals cannot identify the source for their infection. While it is believed most cases are due to risk factors involving contaminated blood, there remain unidentified modes of Hepatitis C transmission. Salivary transmission is one potential explanation for many unexplained viral causes.

Tiny and Infectious

Measuring only about 50 nanometers in diameter, Hepatitis C is an extremely small virus. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter; 200,000 Hepatitis C viruses placed end to end would only measure a single centimeter. Smaller than the wavelength of visible light, viral particles have no color. In those who are infected, Hepatitis C may produce approximately one trillion new viral particles every day.

Unlike many other viruses (like HIV), any potential source of blood to blood contact seems capable of carrying the Hepatitis C virus. This is true, even if the source is indirect, such as a used razor, making HCV far more transmissible than most other blood borne viruses. As documented by occupational exposure statistics, Hepatitis C is approximately seven times more infectious than HIV.

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Jancin, Bruce, Hepatitis C virus may be spread through saliva: avoid toothbrush sharing, OB/GYN News, November 2003.

Hepatitis C – contamination of toothbrushes: myth or reality?, Journal of Viral Hepatitis, September 2006.

www.cdc.gov, Hepatitis C FAQ, US Department of Health and Human Services, 2006.

www.epidemic.org, The Hepatitis C Virus, Trustees of Dartmouth College, 2006.

www.hcvadvocate.org, HCV: Important Study on Dried Blood Stability, Hepatitis C Support Project, January 2004.

www.hcvets.com, Saliva may have infectious amounts of HCV in presence of high HCV viral load and gum disease, Michael Carter, HCVets.com, September 2003.

www.hepnet.com, Stopping the Spread of the Virus, Molly Colin, Schering Canada Inc., 2006.

www.medicalnewstoday, Kissing Could Spread Hepatitis C, MediLexicon International, Ltd., September 2003.

www.pafp.com, Hepatitis C Virus can Live in Dried Blood, Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians, 2003.

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47 Comments

  • Caitlin says:

    What about potential contaimination throught sharing a cigarette or drinking from another’s cup?

  • Candice Bowen says:

    Idk I need to know too??

  • Chris says:

    No, this I know for a fact. Ive been Hep C positive for a few years now, my viral count being pretty high, and I share drinks with my dad all the time. He’s yet to catch it..!

    • usingthatexamplethen.. says:

      i have been hep c positive for over 25 years.. married to same person for 28 years.. do all the things that married people do.. and he still to this day does not have it.. that surprises me.. but it is true.. so i think it is really hard to get unless you use needles or get it thru a transfusion or something like that.. i just know we have had plenty of years to try to spread it to him and he still does not have it.. we had been sleeping together for several years before i found out i had it.. and he did not have it then.. when i was positive, we tested him and he was negative.. so we never considered using protection.. out of habit of not doing it before probably.. but .. ..we both have gum disease.. years of dipping tobacco.. nice habit.. and we still do not have it passing thru kissing…after brushing teeth lol… i brush teeth after any dip.. cant stand smoking.. wont buy nicotine stickers or gum.. so i dip… after almost 30 years of marriage and dating it has not been passed between us.. so.. go figure.. i think i got it after donating blood and plasma.. it was after i went there that i tested positive.. and i had donated blood many times before no problem at college and at blood drives at church and at plasma place then.. all of a sudden i was unable to donate anymore.. told i had this thing i had never heard of.. it was back in late 1980’s..I wondered if the blood banks were not testing for it yet as it was newly discovered back then..and they tested for aids but not hep c..anyway, after they told me that, I went to doctor.. did liver enzyme tests and other blood tests.. etc.. sure enough high liver enzymes and tested positive…. and still I do enzyme tests periodically to check the virus level.. it stays high.. treatments are off the charts too expensive and only very small percentage of people get any benefit after doing the treatments that are horrid on the body..and cost thousands and take weeks and weeks to go through making patients super sick during.. so doctor said to use ibuprofen and never drink alcohol again.. so, ibuprofen helps with pain/body aches etc.. but not too often or flu like symptoms get way worse.. I cannot drink any alcohol.. it makes me horridly feverish and diarrhea for several days.. even just a little.. so no drinking ever! so i am sick.. but ironically still he is not. I find that weird.. and he does not worry and wont use precautions.. does not like them.. and we still kiss and share nail clippers.. have every kind of sex possible that married people have.. so go figure.. are some people immune to it or something? that is what i wonder..

      • james b says:

        FYI i had HEP C for over 10 years myself and there is a new drug in town and its called HARVONI I was onit for 12 weeks some people only have to take it for 8 weeks, but now i am HEP C FREE not hard on the body at all i refused the earlier treatments myself because i new people that did tell me how hard it was on the body and not a guarantee it would get rid of it, Thank God For The New Treatment out there. Good Luck.

    • sb says:

      when your viral load is over 1 million, you CAN pass HEP C along through saliva. THAT is what the experts are saying.

  • panicked says:

    smoking a joint after someone with hep c

  • Paul says:

    Sharing a rolled up one hundred dollar bill,……sharing a toot straw is another way that HepC is passed around.

  • Sum guy says:

    What about touching a bloody tissue of someone infected and then eating something with out washing your hands

  • Etznab87 says:

    I just got tested and found out I have hepatitis c no real information was giving to me … I live in Atlanta GA just got out of prison and don’t know where to go . I’m freaking out , specially googling the price on the medication .. Is their any available free help I can get in my city ? Please help

    • becca says:

      hello. I am not sure with your area for sure but check with your local health district so Atlanta city health online, they should have discount medication programs at the very least. go to your community health clinic tell them you have low income and need health assistance. I hope his helps

    • Abbviefan1 says:

      Hey Etznab87,
      After over 40 years since my only blood transfusion, two failed attempts at a cure using Alpha Interferon and then Alpha Interferon plus Ribaviron, I found a CLINICAL TRIAL on CLINICALTRIALS.GOV. There I found a clinical trial in my area and was enrolled within about 6 weeks. The study was on the “3D” , 3 pills twice a day combo from a company called Abbvie. My viral load went from over 1.5 million down to UNDETECTABLE within 2 weeks with NO SIDE EFFECTS.
      I would suggest you check this site out. The treatment is very expensive still but coming down soon Ive been told. As a side note, I suffer from fibromyalgia which I would describe as muscle and joint pain all over, but this began when I was on the interferon treatments over 15 years ago and never left, not the current regimen. It keeps me from sleeping at night which is problematic to say the least. I am just relieved that the virus is no longer attacking my liver after all of these years.

      • trotter says:

        I can relate, I had mine 38 yrs., 2 yr. long interferon/ribaviran mess, with the 2nd have a problem in part of my brain that won’t allow me to think like I should, on the 3rd tx one month, went to ER, stayed on 4th tx about a week and through it all, viral load went up to 4 million.
        I was then on Olysio and Sovaldi 4 months, in remission now – unbelievable.
        Oh, I was told I had 6 month in there. The new drugs are God-given, researchers were good too.

      • trotter says:

        Have u heard of Melatonin? We produce it until we age and have less. It helps a lot of people ease to sleep and stay asleep during tiny sounds, easy to wake with. It won’t knock u out, just a natural helper.

    • good sam says:

      atlanta harm reduction coalition

  • Worried says:

    So my friend has hep C ive obviously never swapped blood but we smoke together and get drunk together frequently. Im not going to catch hep c from this right ?

  • Vee says:

    Can u get it from kissing, ?from saliva?

  • potnot says:

    it is a blood to blood virus I had it for 45 years got treatments and got rid of it.also have been married 35 years still have a healthy sex life and my wife never contracted the virus it is very had to spread I got infected from a blood transfusion

    • Abbviefan1 says:

      potnot, my experience has been the same as yours. I’ve been with 3 different women partners for over 10 years each and none of them got HCV even though we took little precaution in the early days as I had no idea I had the disease – there was no test for it yet.

  • Britt says:

    I have a question about the likelihood of contacting hepatitis c that I am going this group can help answer. My sister is an active IV drug user – no longer “illegal” drugs, but shooting up various prescription medications. She appears to regularly have fresh looking puncture/needle markes on her hands and arms, even though she swears they are just scars, and that she isn’t injecting anything anymore. I did see blood running down her arms last time I saw her. She said she couldn’t explain why. My sister was diagnosed with hepatitis c a few years ago and was hospitalized once for liver complications.

    To my question… I have a 11 month infant son who I am very reluctant to allow my sister to hold, all of this considered. I just don’t feel I can trust her, that there isn’t dried up blood underneath her clothes or on her hands, which my son could possibly touch, put directly in his mouth, etc. I have told her that until I understand any potential for harm a little better, that I am not comfortable with her holding him (they tend to go outside and walk/play, snuggle throughout the house, etc.)

    Is this overkill on my part? Couldn’t my son contract something if perhaps I flipped his nails, for example, and he had an open wound, touched her dry blood, and put his fingers directly in his mouth? I just want to protect my son as best as I can while, ideally, maintaining my relationship with my sister who is currently furious with me because of all of this. I’d love everyones feedback! Thank you.

    • RG says:

      I feel the same way as you. My sister is positive and I won’t touch anything after she has. We have been estranged our whole lives, so this only fuels the fire between us. She also works in food prep at WaWa, and I don’t think that’s fair. She has always had iffy hygeine, and isn’t known for cleanliness. She also recently just gave birth 2 years ago, and has yet to test her son. He’s in daycare with innocent children and workers who have no clue that he could potentially be infected. She contracted the virus doing her second trimester and when she gave birth, her viral load was extremely high. That increases the likelihood of congenital transmission. The whole situation makes me sick, but as we do not have a healthy relationship, she doesn’t listen to any of my advice. She is not on any medication, as you have to pass a drug test (and be drug-free as all drugs affect your liver) to be treated, and she feels her methadone addiction is more important than saving her life!!!

      • DEBORAH WHIPPLE says:

        I have Hep C and I’m on treatment now … Taking Harvoni , on my 4th week …. My viral load was a little over 300,000 at the beginning of treatment ….. I went to my 4th week appointment and I’m happy to say my viral load was zero …. I have a 100% chance of being cured … The way you feel about your sister is very sad to me …. Do you realize 1 & 5 people have Hep C ? You cannot catch it by eating utensils , touching , coughing , sneezing , or through food … It is a blood to boold disease …. Getting it through sex is very low … You can kill the virus out side the body , like surface’s 1part bleach to 10 cups water … Instead of criticizing and judging …. Get knowledge … About it 1st … Hope that you never catch anything and have feel the shame that other people make you feel ….. I was a drug user …. Clean 10 years …. I understand your frustration but in my opinion the way you come at a person in these sitiations could make all the difference … Love , Patience & Kindness ….. That’s what got me out of the terrible lifestyle is was living and also finally being tired of it …. My family never liked that is was on drugs and they let me know but I always felt their Love , Patience and Hope that I would turn my life around . They never gave up … Even when I’m sure they wanted to …. And I know I didn’t deserve it …. But that’s what family is about . My hope is that you help your loved one find the way to a better place in life ….. Things happen to good people and good people can bring them back to good people …. Just saying …

        • RG says:

          I’m sorry if anything I said offended you. You are probably a wonderful person who is very careful and responsible. My sister and I do have a very unhealthy relationship. I don’t deny that. However, she doesn’t take even the most basic precautions. And for that, I’m scared.

          • DEBORAH WHIPPLE says:

            I understand …. You didn’t offend me …. I just know how I have felt , when you tell someone you trust and they make you feel even worse about it , than you already feel …. I am ashamed of my past decisions , that got me where I am now . Maybe , I deserve to feel that shame ? And yes , I always take special care to never , put anyone in danger . Anyways , it just made me sad for you and your sister . Wish you two could mend your relationship and be Sisters . But I get it …. Some people are to far gone and until she decides to change nothing will ever change … I will keep her and you in my prayers . I only have 6 weeks left on my treatment and I’ll be cured …. The treatment is easy and I have not had any side effects at all … Just like taking a vitamin every day … I feel very grateful for another chance …

          • RG says:

            Thank you for understanding, and GOOD LUCK!!! I wish you the best and that treatment is successful:)

        • trotter says:

          How right u are. NO ONE should feel guilty having Hep C, ur sick like any other person w/a deadly disease.

          • DEBORAH WHIPPLE says:

            Thank you , trotter ……. If you have Her C say anything to people you always get that scared to death look , then they avoid you …. So even if you want to be honest , responsible about it , from my experience , you quickly learn to just be careful and quiet .

          • trotter says:

            I understand that’s many people’s way of dealing w/it. Someway, since I was first diagnosed I just felt sick and that I was entitled to help getting better, just like any another person in America.
            I tell people when it comes up or I need to. Then I tell them they don’t have to worry, only blood-to-blood contact will possibly infect them.
            I kind of feel like an advocate of Hep C, that when more of us (that can) deal w/people head on and educate them, it will help.
            But, NEVER feel guilty. Get help and make them help you.

      • trotter says:

        If she has no sores, she can handle food w/ NO problem. Hep C is passed blood-to-blood ONLY. And tell her I seen and know of 5 people who went to suicide, about 25 others who died of Hep C and hundreds who are very ill and unable to function much at all.
        People w/ Hepatitis C contract more cancers than the general population, and that’s not counting liver cancer. All the sick millions in America w/Hep C really have trouble knowing some are flushing their lives away, when most of us struggle to get to the next day.
        Watch any open sores on her around your mother, then accept as much as u can that she’ll do what she wants til she’s ready to change; too many times it’s too late. I’ll be thinking of u.

        • RG says:

          My concern is this.. Every web site, including this, have all said approx ~30% of people with HCV have NO CLUE how they contracted the virus (no needles, no unsafe sex, no transfusion, nothing “high risk”, etc) which has lead scientists to wonder if there is some other transmission other than direct blood-to-blood. They said HCV is much more transmittable than, say, HIV due to its incredibly small size, and penetrates blood barriers with ease. That makes me wonder, how did all of these people get the virus? Perhaps maybe, in certain cases, it can be transmitted other then direct blood to blood contact?

          • trotter says:

            Baby Boomers are the biggest group that are undiagnosed, yet have Hep C. These are mostly the ones that may not know 40 yrs. exactly how they got it.
            Hepatitis C stays on surfaces up to 2 months or so. And, I don’t know if u did this, but I know my brothers and others made “blood pacts”, cutting their palms and shaking hands. So no one can remember all their risks from 20-40+ yrs. ago. We used to not be careful of blood, let alone bleach things down.
            Researchers still say it’s only blood-to-blood.

          • trotter says:

            When u are online, look at who is monitoring or started the web site.

    • trotter says:

      Touching ur sister’s blood and putting it in his mouth WILL NOT give your son Hep C. This disease is transmitted blood-to-blood contact. Your son, or anyone else must get the tainted blood into their bloodstream. If ur son has an open sore, it’s slightly possible for him to catch it.
      When I was diagnosed, I called a family meeting and even though it hurt me deeply, I told my bros and sisters that if they felt they didn’t want their kids to come around me, I wouldn’t.
      Luckily, one of my brothers who I told before researched Hepatitis C and gave the others a printout of all aspects. One by one, my siblings stated that I was such a part of my nieces’ and nephews’ lives and it would hurt them too much. I also swore I would cover any sore I had that was open and take high care when around anyone.
      You might talk w/your sister, telling her to cover what she needs to and to be honest w/u for ur son’s sake.

  • sarah says:

    I just found out my 5 month old has hep c am I going to loose him

  • Tammy says:

    What happenif I’m a dental assistant and my patient has Hepsie and water splashes in both my eyes from patient

    • mark slaney says:

      Do you by chance have an anxiety disorder because pepsi I mean hepsie will not infect you through the eyes unless there is visible blood in it and the risk would still be next to zero .

  • Tammy says:

    I have been exposed by saliva from a hep C patient

  • charlene says:

    hi i am worried sick..i have a high percentage of having hep c so i am very careful with bloodspills. Today i hurt my finger a very amount of blood came out so i sucked it to take it off temporarily..msy brother burst in my room and asked me for cigarette pack so i passed it. I am really scared i spread it to him..as he is wearing braces, and maybe he put his hand in his mouth later..he is studying medicine so he needs to be totally clean. Can this be possible?? i am worried sick

  • Mary Beth Williams says:

    My spouse passed away with chronic liver disease caused by HepC 2 years ago. I have been tested twice since he passed away and do not have HepC. Could I still be a carrier for this horrible disease even if I tested negative? I’m wanting to start living my life again and don’t want my partner to be exposed. HELP!

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