Is Hep C Considered an STD?
One of the most common questions people have about hepatitis C is whether it is considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Technically, it isn’t categorized as such. However, while rare, hepatitis C can potentially be spread through sexual contact with someone who has this virus.
How Hepatitis C Is Typically Contracted
Hepatitis C is a virus that causes liver inflammation. Therefore, it is considered a liver infection, sometimes also referred to as a liver disease or disorder—versus being known as an STD.
Hep C is typically contracted by coming into contact with an infected person’s blood, with the most common method of contracting this virus involving sharing needles—or other drug equipment that comes into contact with blood—with an infected person. (1)
This helps explain why hep C is not technically an STD. STDs are spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex, (2) which is different than being primarily spread through blood contact.
Can You Get Hep C Through Sexual Contact?
Unfortunately, you can potentially contract the hepatitis C virus through sexual contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although, this type of transmission is rare. (3)
The CDC adds that certain factors do appear to increase a person’s risk of getting the hep C virus through sexual activity.
- having an STD
- having multiple sex partners
- engaging in anal sex
Hepatitis C Contraction and HIV
Some studies suggest that there is a higher chance of contracting hep C through sexual activity when this activity involves a male who has the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and has sex with other males. (4)
One of the potential reasons cited for this increased risk is that some of the networks of males who have sex with other males may overlap with people who also use needles to inject drugs. It’s also possible that damage to the rectum’s mucosal barrier could make these individuals more susceptible to contracting hepatitis C.
Other pieces of research seem to point to a theory more in line with the second hypothesis. For example, one article explains that some of the mucosal cells near the anus in HIV-positive males who have sex with other males seem to “capture” the hepatitis C virus, allowing it to enter into the blood. (5)
The Bottom Line
Is hep C considered an STD? No. However, it can possibly be transmitted through sexual contact, especially if your partner is a male who has HIV and has sex with other males.
If you have hepatitis C, learning about this liver infection is a good first step. There are several treatment options for hep C, not to mention modifying your diet can help as well.
It’s also helpful to learn how you can give hepatitis C to others. The better you understand how this virus is spread, the greater your ability to protect your sexual partners.
(1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, July 28). Viral Hepatitis: Hepatitis C. Retrieved March 08, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/index.htm
(2) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, March 02). Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs): Diseases & Related Conditions. Retrieved March 08, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/std/general/default.htm
(3) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, September 21). Viral Hepatitis: Sexual Transmission. Retrieved March 08, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/populations/stds.htm
(4) Nijmeijer, B., et al. (2019, August 30). Sexually Transmitted Hepatitis C Virus Infections: Current Trends, and Recent Advances in Understanding the Spread in Men Who Have Sex with Men. Journal of the International AIDS Society. doi:10.1002/jia2.25348
(5) Nijmeijer, B., et al. (2019, April 01). HIV-1 Exposure and Immune Activation Enhance Sexual Transmission of Hepatitis C Virus by Primary Langerhans Cells. Journal of the International AIDS Society. doi:10.1002/jia2.25268