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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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