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How Is Hepatitis C Spread?

Hepatitis C is a viral inflammatory disease of the liver. The inflamed liver can then develop cirrhosis and even cancer. Like all viral hepatitis, Hep C can also be transmitted from person to person. There can be multiple transmission routes, but the disease can only be transmitted by coming into contact with an infected person's blood.

Some of the routes of transmission for Hepatitis C spread include:

1) Sharing Drug Use Needles or Straws to Inhale Substances

Sharing needles and other drug use equipment carries the most significant risk for transmitting the Hepatitis C virus. Everything associated with injecting drugs, including tourniquets, needles, and syringes, carries considerable risk. Sharing equipment for non-injectable drugs can also contribute to Hepatitis C spread. There can be traces of infected blood on, for example, smoking pipes through cracked lips and nosebleeds. 

2) Getting Tattoos and Piercings

Non-sterile tattooing equipment at unregulated, unlicensed tattooing facilities can add to Hepatitis C spread. Even informal settings at high-end tattoo parlors, such as inadequate sterilization of the equipment, can lead to the spread of the virus. 

Similarly, getting piercings on any part of the body also carries significant risk as it involves direct skin penetration.

3) Blood Transfusions

Since a blood-borne virus causes hepatitis C, it is only natural that blood transfusions carry the highest risk of getting the disease. In 1992, hospitals started widespread screening of blood units for transfusion. Now rates for Hep. C transmission through blood transfusions and organ transplants is low in developed countries. Developing countries, however, remain at a greater risk still. 

4) Unsafe Medical Practices

Medical practices other than blood transfusions and organ transplants can also become a cause for Hepatitis C's spread. Sometimes the equipment used for multiple diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, such as endoscopes, thermometers, masks, and other equipment, is not appropriately sterilized after use. Unsafe disposal of hospital waste can also harbor the causative agent of Hepatitis C.


All of the routes mentioned above for the transmission of the Hep C virus are high-risk activities. However, the virus can spread through other means as well. These are all medium-risk activities, but they carry a risk nevertheless:

Vertical transmission – mothers can pass the Hepatitis C virus to their babies before and during birth. The probability for this rises if the mother has concomitant STDs, like HIV. 

Sharing hygiene supplies – Razors, toothbrushes, floss, and even nail clippers can have traces of blood on them. This is usually enough to transmit Hepatitis C if these supplies are shared with another person. 

Having unprotected intercourse with an infected person – you can spread and catch the Hepatitis C virus through unprotected sex with an infected person, but this is generally rare. 

Latrogenic injuries – accidental needle pricks in healthcare settings and other accidents can lead to the transmission of the virus.


Since there are so many ways to transmit the disease, it's only natural that there are several myths about its transmission. Here is a list of activities that won't contribute to the spread of Hep C virus:

  • Coughing & Sneezing
  • Kissing
  • Hugging
  • Breastfeeding
  • Handshakes
  • Sharing utensils or food


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