Hepatitis C is a contagious and serious liver disease. There’s no vaccine to protect against the virus, but with the right safety measures, you can prevent an infection in yourself and others.
Hepatitis C is spread through direct contact with infected blood. To help prevent transmission, don’t share personal care items, such as razors.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) affects more than three million people in the United States, with about 17,000 new cases each year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Some people can live with the virus for years without symptoms, and as a result, unknowingly spread it to others, notes the Mayo Clinic.
There are several types of hepatitis, with types A, B, and C being the most common, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vaccines are available to prevent hepatitis A and B, but there isn’t currently a vaccine to prevent HCV, although researchers have been working on a vaccine for more than two decades, according to the Mayo Clinic. There are many Hepatitis variations and a vaccine that can protect against all types of the virus has yet to be developed.
Hepatitis C spreads through direct contact with blood and certain body fluids containing the virus. The good news is that even though there isn’t a vaccine for hepatitis C, the virus is preventable. Learn how to protect yourself and others.
AVOID SHARING PERSONAL CARE ITEMS
Don’t Share Drug Needles or Paraphernalia
New hepatitis C infections are more common among people who inject drugs, per past research. This is because many drug users share needles, and it only takes a single drop of infected blood for the virus to spread from person to person.
But the virus doesn’t only spread through the use of drug needles. It can also spread when two people share a straw or dollar bill for snorting cocaine, when traces of blood are present in the nose.
The best way to prevent an infection is to stop injecting drugs. This will most likely involve getting treatment for substance abuse and addiction. At the very least, only use newly packaged sterile syringes and needles, and never share drug-injecting equipment with others.
Make Sure You Choose a Reputable Tattoo Shop
Don’t assume that every tattoo parlor takes the necessary measures to prevent the spread of bloodborne viruses, because some don’t. So do your due diligence and ask questions to ensure your personal safety
If you want to get a tattoo, make sure to get it from an established and safe place, and make sure they use a different needle in each customer” The tattoo artist should wear gloves, and the surroundings and equipment should be cleaned and sterilized
Also, make sure the tattoo parlor is licensed. You can check with your local or state health department for licensing information, and only use parlors that come recommended by friends and family.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about safety measures. How do they sterilize their counters, tables, chairs, and equipment? Do they use a bleach-based disinfectant? A reputable tattooist shouldn’t have an issue answering your questions.
If you detect annoyance or attitude from the tattooist, follow your gut and get out. Also, speak up if you don’t see your tattoo artist apply a fresh pair of disposable gloves, or if they don’t open a new pack of needles or pigment trays in your presence. If needles and pigment trays aren’t sealed, ask for a fresh one.
Avoid Direct Exposure to Blood Infected With Hepatitis C
Keep in mind that it’s also possible for hepatitis C to spread through accidental contact with an infected person’s blood. So even if you don’t share needles or razors, or get a tattoo, there’s the risk of infection if you live with someone infected with the virus, or if you work in healthcare and handle needles — but only if you come in contact with infected blood.
To protect yourself (and others) at home, wear gloves before tending to cuts and other bloody injuries, and clean contaminated surfaces with bleach. “If you have a family member with hepatitis C, encourage them to get treatment, because newer medications are highly effective at curing the infection, thus eliminating any chance of spreading it to others.
Any gloves, bandages, or tissues covered with infected blood should be sealed in a plastic bag and disposed of in the trash, and you should wash any contaminated fabrics at the highest temperature with bleach.
“Needle stick injury among healthcare workers is another possible method of transmission,” so these workers should always practice safety. “Wear protective gear, especially gloves, when handling blood and blood products as well as sharp items, and always report and get yourself treated if there’s any incident of accidental needle stick,” she warns.
Take Precautions and Practice Safe Sex
Hepatitis C is rarely transmitted through vaginal intercourse, but you should still take steps to protect yourself and others by wearing condoms.
You may feel that condoms aren’t necessary if you’re in a monogamous heterosexual relationship. Keep in mind, though, that HCV can spread through menstrual flow, so refrain from having sex during this time of the month.
If you or your partner has been infected, wear a condom during anal sex, too, as a precaution. Anal sex can cause small tears around the rectum. This can lead to minor bleeding and spread the virus from person-to-person.
Get Tested for Hepatitis C and Know Your Status
If you suspect that you’ve been exposed to the virus at some point, talk to your doctor about getting tested, even if you don’t have any symptoms.
This is especially important if you had an organ transplant or a blood transfusion prior to 1992. Before this time, blood and organs weren’t tested for the virus.
You should also get tested if you develop symptoms of the virus. These include flu-like symptoms, constant fatigue, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain that doesn’t improve.
Hepatitis C and Pregnancy: What to Know
Unfortunately, there’s no way to prevent the spread of the hepatitis C virus to an unborn baby, per past research.
If you’re infected, there’s about a 1 in 20 chance that you’ll pass the virus to your child during delivery.
If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, talk to your doctor. Although treatment during pregnancy isn’t recommended, antiviral treatment prior to getting pregnant can help clear the virus from your body and lower the risk of mother-to-child transmission, notes the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. About 90 percent of those infected are cured after 8 to 12 weeks of antiviral therapy.
Final Word on Hepatitis C Prevention
If left untreated, hepatitis C can cause many complications, such as cirrhosis of the liver, liver damage, and liver failure. But the good news is that hepatitis C is a preventable virus, as long as you take the necessary precautions. If you become infected, starting treatment can improve your liver health and lessen the likelihood of spreading the virus to others.