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Can You Get Viral Hepatitis from Oral Sex?

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. October 9, 2009

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Make sure you know the facts about how oral sex could transmit the three most common types of viral hepatitis. Please note: explicit descriptions of sexual activity are contained within this article.

The risk of contracting viral hepatitis through oral sex is different for each viral strain:

  • Hepatitis A Risk – The Hepatitis A virus is highly concentrated in the feces. Unfortunately, it will almost inevitably be present on apparently clean anal skin of infected individuals. Thus, there is a substantial risk in acquiring Hepatitis A from analingus. Several epidemic outbreaks have been reported among gay men, but heterosexual couples practicing analingus are just as likely to be at risk.
  • Hepatitis B Risk – The Hepatitis B virus can cause chronic liver disease – and has the potential to be fatal. Considered to be 100 times more infectious than HIV, Hepatitis B viral particles are in semen, vaginal secretions, stool, tears, saliva, sweat and blood (including menstrual blood). There is clear evidence that Hepatitis B can be transmitted through vaginal and anal intercourse, but it is unproven whether it can be transmitted through oral sex. Since it is so contagious, there is a theoretical risk of transmitting Hepatitis B through cunnilingus, fellatio or analingus.
  • Hepatitis C Risk – The Hepatitis C virus can also cause chronic liver disease with a potential for being fatal. Transmitted via blood-to-blood contact, this illness is harder to acquire from sexual contact. While there is little evidence proving Hepatitis C acquisition through oral sex, a theoretical risk exists if there is any blood present in the giver or receiver. Thus, a risk of transmitting Hepatitis C via cunnilingus, fellatio or analingus exists if there is any menstrual blood, bleeding gums, a throat infection, cold sores, canker sores, genital warts, hemorrhoids or any other breaks in the skin in any involved body structure – vagina, clitoris, labia, penis, testicles, anus, perineum, lips, tongue or anywhere else on the genitalia or inside the mouth.

Experts believe that viral hepatitis is more likely to be transmitted if either the positive or the negative partner has another STD, especially one that causes sores or lesions. Thus, suspicious symptoms should always be checked by a doctor before engaging in oral sex.

Besides being vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B, safer sex practices can help prevent the spread of viral hepatitis. Using condoms can prevent disease transmission during fellatio; latex or polyurethane condoms are best for disease prevention since natural skin condoms have small pores that can let viruses through. Latex dental dams, sheets of plastic wrap and latex sheets sold specifically for oral sex can help prevent disease transmission during cunnilingus or analingus.

Although the risk of transmitting viral hepatitis during oral sex is low, practitioners suggest abstaining if there are any cuts or sores on the mouth or genitalia areas. Additionally, some experts suggest avoiding brushing or flossing their teeth right before or after oral sex since these activities may create tiny abrasions or result in bleeding gums.

Vaccinations against Hepatitis A and B can protect you if you’ve been exposed to one of these viral particles during oral sex. However, these vaccines will not protect you from Hepatitis C or any other STD. Therefore, knowing what situations are riskiest, and being prepared to abstain or practice safe sex, is your best bet for engaging in disease-free oral sex.

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Page 1 2

http://menshealth.about.com/cs/diseases/a/hepatitis_4.htm, How You Get Hepatitis, Jerry Kennard, Retrieved October 1, 2009, About.com, 2009.

http://www.hcvadvocate.org/hepatitis/factsheets_pdf/sextrans.pdf, Sexual Transmission of Hepatitis C, Retrieved September 30, 2009, Hepatitis C Support Project, 2009.

http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/infections/infectionoralsex.htm, Infection Risk and Oral Sex, Retrieved September 30, 2009, netdoctor.co.uk, 2009.

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  • curious

    i have a future partner who has told me thy have hep b but are on meds for it . can i contract it thro oral sex with her

  • mamita

    Im afriad my husband just find out he got hep c i got tested and results where neg can it come out later

    • Ethan Davidson

      Studies of heteroxexual couples couples where one has hep c and the other dosn’t indicate that in most cases there is no transition. Evan in those rare cases where one person does become Hep C positive, it usualy is with a different genotype, indicating a seperate infection source. Thus, we know that sexual transmision of HCV via heterosexual or lesbian sex is extremley rare. There is a small but real rate of transimison amog men who have AIDS and one also has HCV. This cam usually be prevented by barriored “safer” sex.
      However, partners that live together sometimes engadge in intimacies such as sharing razers or tooth brushes, These should be avoided, as should any contact with the infected person blood, whenever possible.
      Doctors have (mostly) reached consensus that couples in a monogoumous relatioship where one is HCV positive do not need to switch to bariored sex unless they are already using it for some other reason.
      It is true that “having a large number of sex paartners) is considered to be a possible HCV risk factor for women. However, They are not sure why. It may be that women who self report “a large number of sex partners” have other risk factors, such as drug use.

  • Shirazi

    hi. My wife has Hepatisis b, but I myself dont. I also had vaccination 20 years ago. my question is that is it possible that I receive this viral disease through cunnilingus? thanks

  • Tim

    Your information regarding transmission of HBV is dead wrong. You should refer to CDC….. It CANNOT be transmitted via breast milk, sweat, or Saliva.

    • Annie

      Thank you! This page was one of the top results on Google for a query I had regarding Hepatitis. I know that’s no guarantee that it’s accurate, but with this sort of factual, uncontroversial topic, you can typically rely on those first few Google hits.
      It’s not a huge deal in this case — people will only end up being more careful than they need be. But those that attack medical science (the anti-vaxxers, homeopathic potion peddlars, Mercola devotees, those idiots)? Those guys do real harm and they love to seize on this sort of error. To them, it’s proof that “Big Medical” is negligenly ignorant and that a Google University diploma is just as good as medical school when it comes to medical decisions.
      Ugh. I’m overreacting, but I just came over from reading the comments on an article about the MMR and autism. It’s maddening.

  • Ben

    Can help c be transmitted by sharing a drink from a glass?

    • Carol

      No.

  • nocomis123

    I am a bisexual male, 60 years old. I have had maybe 4 sexual partners (men) in the last year. I have never engaged in anal sex, only oral sex. I have not allowed sperm into my mouth although the last time, the guy came without giving any warning and I ended up with a mouthful of sperm which I spat out within a minute or so. I was horrified to discover, whilst undergoing routine medical tests that I had contracted Hepatitus C. Before the oral sex, I was careful to ensure I had no cuts or ulcers in my mouth or bleeding gums.The test that indicated this was an ALAT blood test – I have been having these tests for years as I am taking very high doses of cholesterol drugs and have ALAT every 6 months as part of liver function tests. Every test prior to this sexual encounter had been well within the ‘norm’ (0-41) but the test some 3 months after the encounter had a reading of nearly 1000! This I believe is conclusive proof that HCV can be contracted through oral sex and I urge eveyone to be VERY careful when contemplating such activity.