Can Saliva Transmit Hepatitis C?
People with chronic Hepatitis C are advised not to share toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers or other personal articles that may have potentially been in contact with their blood. While there is very little emphasis on saliva as a vehicle of Hepatitis C transmission, under the right circumstances there is some evidence to the contrary:
- As published in the September 2006 issue of Journal of Viral Hepatitis, German researchers investigated the transmission of Hepatitis C via a toothbrush. A team from the University of Regensburg examined 30 patients with Hepatitis C to see whether they had contaminated their toothbrushes with the virus. They collected saliva samples from infected patients both before and after tooth brushing. Figures showed that 30 percent of infected patients tested positive for traces of the virus in their saliva before brushing their teeth, while 38 percent tested positive in their saliva after brushing. Additionally, about 40 percent of the water used to rinse the infected toothbrushes tested positive for the virus. This information confirms the caution against toothbrush sharing, and also sounds a possible Hepatitis C transitory alarm.
- In September of 2003, evidence that saliva contains the Hepatitis C virus was disclosed at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. Scientists from the University of Washington in Seattle concluded that while saliva may be infectious, the strongest predictor of viral presence in the saliva is serum viral load. Researchers found that Hepatitis C was not found in saliva if the person’s viral load was under one million. Additionally, any risk of acquiring infection through salivary contact existed only in the presence of gum disease. Investigators attribute this risk to microscopic amounts of blood in the saliva and visually undetectable open mouth wounds present in gum disease.
All possibilities must be considered in trying to determine how unknown sources of Hepatitis C infection took place. Although Hepatitis C has been detected in saliva, the necessary conditions render it unlikely—but not impossible—to be transmitted by kissing or through the sharing of a toothbrush. Before anybody panics about these potential risks, remember that there are conditions accompanying these possible modes of transmission:
- The person with the virus must have a viral load over one million.
- Both parties involved have gum disease.
While experts view the risk of transmitting this disease through saliva as extremely low, it is recommended to maintain good oral hygiene, and toothbrushes be used solely by their owners.
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