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How do you get hepatitis C?

Even though hepatitis C is definitely not the most contagious disease out there, getting infected with it is still possible under many circumstances. The current statistics taking the number of infected people and the number of new cases being diagnosed every year only proves that: right now there are almost 200 million people living with hep C and 10 million more getting infected yearly. As you can see, the numbers are very impressing and even scary.

Everyone knows that avoiding a disease is often much easier than having to fight it at a later point after the infection. With hepatitis C it is exactly the case. Here in this article we will lay out the most common ways of getting infected with this virus as well as simple techniques that would allow you to avoid the infection in the most efficient way. Hepatitis C is a very dangerous and potentially deadly disease, so, please, take this article as seriously as it’s only possible and follow the recommendations in it at all times. Note that these simple guidelines can save you not only from hep C but also from other infections transmitted by means of blood-to-blood contact.

What causes hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is caused by hepatitis C virus – a small single-stranded RNA virus from the family of Flaviviridae. Apart from hep C itself, this virus is also known to cause certain types of cancer lymphomas in humans, which makes it even more dangerous.

It is not the occurrence of hepatitis C virus itself in human blood that leads to numerous health conditions, due to which this disease is so feared (liver cirrhosis, liver failure, cancer, etc.). The malicious effects of this virus are due to the fact that it replicates in infected humans with considerably high speed, “feeding” on liver cells as it mostly replicates itself in hepatocytes of the liver. Additionally, it can spread to and replicate in peripheral blood mononuclear cells, which is exactly why so many patients with chronic hepatitis C also have various immunological problems.

Fighting hepatitis C is a very challenging process because it has many different genotypes and mutates easily. Due to this fact, some of the medications that show high cure rates in treatment of hep C today may lose their effect in future if the virus develops resistance to them.

Another challenge that scientists looking for ways to end hepatitis C epidemics on Earth have to face is the fact that there’s currently no vaccine that would prevent people from getting infected with this virus in the first place. Hopefully, it will be discovered in not so distant future like it happened with hep A and B but right now there’s no effective pharmaceutical means of avoiding hep C infection.

How is hepatitis C transmitted in hospitals?

Unfortunately, even with rapid development of global healthcare system, the number of cases of hep C infection in clinical settings still remains very high. We will talk about the risks of blood transfusion, which holds the first place among all risks of hep C transmission in the following section of our article and focus on the variety of less significant but still potentially dangerous clinical procedures here.

Basically, any medical operation involving invasive techniques may result in hep C infection, especially if the tools the doctor uses are not properly disinfected. And we’re not only talking about surgery here – there have been registered cases of hep C being transmitted during dental care, endoscopy (when it resulted in scratching of the esophagus) and other similar procures that usually aren’t considered to be risky at all.

It’s also worth noting that the doctors themselves are anything but safe – there are regular occasions of sharp injuries during surgery or needle stick injuries, which can easily result in infection when there are patients with hep C involved. The biggest problem here is the fact that hep C virus is extremely contagious – it’s estimated that the risk of being infected with it as the result of needle stick injury is around 5%. For instance, the same risk for HIV is about as low as 0.32%, which means that hep C virus is about 15 times more contagious than HIV.

Hepatitis c transmission during blood transfusion

Getting blood transfusion has always been associated with risks of getting infected with hepatitis or HIV but these days the situation is definitely much better than it used to be 20 or 30 years ago. Most countries have made screening blood intended for transfusion for hep C along with other viruses mandatory a long time ago – the United States, for instance, has been screening all blood samples since 1992 and Canada – since 1990. As the result, the risk of contracting hep C after blood transfusion has dropped from around 0.5% to 0.01-0.00001%. Nevertheless, it’s still impossible to eradicate this risk completely due to the existence of so-called ‘window period’ when hep C virus remains unidentifiable in the patient’s blood for up to 70 days following the initial infection. For example, imagine that someone who is a blood donor gets hep C about a week before their next scheduled blood donation. In that event, the risks of using contaminated blood are much higher than usual.

Other examples of risky medical operations that may result in hepatitis C infection are organ transplanting (in case the donor has been infected), child birth (when the infection is passed on from mother to child), surgery and virtually any other operation that may result in needle stick injury or other sharp object injury. There are reported cases of hep C infection even in the course of dental procedures.

How can you get hepatitis C if you use drugs?

Hepatitis C is extremely widespread among intravenous drug users – according to some recent studies, about 30% of all people using drugs that get injected directly into the blood flow are infected with hep C. Such high rate of infection is mostly due to the use of shared needles and/or syringes – a practice that is no longer resorted to as widely as before 1970s when there wasn’t enough information about bloodborne viruses and the peculiarities of their transmission.

Basically, the simplest rule that all IVUs (intravenous drug users) should follow at all times is this: never share needles and syringes with other people. This not only allows one to avoid getting infected with hep C but also protects from other dangerous diseases, such as HIV. Moreover, hepatitis C and other infections can be transmitted with other drug paraphernalia, such as cookers, alcohol swabs, water and ties. There’s even a chance to get infected if your blood comes in contact with a surface contaminated with the blood of a person who has the virus.

Another important thing that all IVUs should be aware of is the following: cleaning equipment with alcohol or even boiling it doesn’t kill hepatitis C virus. Thus, whatever equipment a person uses for drug injection should either be their own and should never be shared for other people or, alternatively, should be disposed of immediately after first-time use.

How do you catch hepatitis C in domestic environment?

Unfortunately, there are numerous situations in which hepatitis C virus may be passed on from one person to another in the course of daily activities that many of us consider to be perfectly safe. It’s important to adopt a few simple practices that should keep you safe from hepatitis C even if you share a household with someone who is infected with this virus or someone whose infection status is unknown to you. Here in this part of our today’s article we will lay these practices out for you.

First of all, it’s vital to remember that direct contact with the blood of an infected person can result in transmission of the virus, which is why it is extremely important to avoid touching wounds, scratches or surfaces stained with another person’s blood in case of injury. If a person with hep C gets injured and needs help, try to get a pair of plastic or latex gloves on before assisting them. That’s why it is important to keep gloves in an easily accessible place around the house.

Additionally, there are recorded cases of hepatitis C being transferred via shared personal items, such as toothbrushes or razors. Whenever there’s scratching or cutting of skin and, consequently, staining of personal hygiene paraphernalia with blood involved, the risk of infection is considerably high. Other personal items like towels, hairbrushes or underwear pose a minor risk of infection. However, the dangers of shared use of these or any other items should always be discussed with your healthcare provider.

How to get hepatitis C through body modification?

Until recently, the risks of contracting hepatitis C as the result of body modifications, such as tattoos or piercing were very high – mostly in cases when body modification artists used the same piercing and tattooing equipment on different clients. Additionally, the virus could be transferred with tattoo ink if it wasn’t mixed in small disposable containers intended for one-time use on each particular customer. Unfortunately, such practices were very widespread in unprofessional studios and, of course, in prisons where multiple inmates had to get their tattoos done with the same equipment.

These days most body modification artists and their customers are fully aware of the infection risks, which is why the majority of studios have accepted safer practices and switched to the use of disposable needles. Nevertheless, there are still traditional forms of body modification, such as male and female circumcision in African tribes and certain types of tattoos in Asia. These pose a serious threat when it comes to the spreading of hep C since they are usually performed with traditional tools that are hardly ever disposed of or even disinfected after first-time use.

How do you contract hepatitis C during sexual intercourse?

Even though most scientists agree that unprotected sex poses a relatively low risk of infection with hepatitis C, there are certain sexual practices that are considered to be more dangerous than others. Naturally, these practices include direct blood-to-blood contact, such as during sex with a menstruating partner. Besides, if you’re not quite sure that your partner is hep C free, avoid anal sex, ‘rough’ sex or sharing sex toys with them.

Remember that there are lots of sexually transmitted diseases apart from hepatitis C, so even if you’re absolutely sure your partner doesn’t have hepatitis C, it doesn’t mean that they are free from other unpleasant or downright dangerous diseases, such as HIV or syphilis. Please, refrain from unprotected sex with casual partners or partners whose health condition is questionable.

Summing up everything we have written above, let’s list the practices that can possibly result in infection with hepatitis C. Please, try to avoid these whenever possible – this will ensure you remain hepatitis C free and live an overall healthier, happier life.

  • Transfusion of blood or organs from donors who didn’t undergo screening for hep C or were going through the so-called window period (the period shortly after the initial infection) at the time of screening.
  • Needle stick or sharp object injuries in hospital settings.
  • Intravenous drug use and use of shared IV drug paraphernalia (needless, syringes, containers, cookers, ties, alcohol swabs, etc.)
  • Rough unprotected sex or other sexual practices that may result in direct blood-to-blood contact.
  • Touching other people’s wounds or scratches with bare hands.
  • Sharing of personal care items, such as razors or toothbrushes.
  • Body modifications, especially in unprofessional settings.
  • Avoiding hepatitis C is not a really difficult thing to do and we strongly suggest that you read this article thoroughly and adopt the safe behavior principles described in it so you never have to deal with this dangerous disease in your life.

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