Hepatitis C FAQ

How is Hepatitis C spread?

Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, Hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.

People can become infected with the Hepatitis C virus during such activities as:

  • Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs
  • Needlestick injuries in health care settings
  • Being born to a mother who has Hepatitis C
  • Less commonly, a person can also get Hepatitis C virus infection through:
  • Sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes
  • Having sexual contact with a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus

Can Hepatitis C be spread through sexual contact?

Yes, but the risk of transmission from sexual contact is believed to be low. The risk increases for those who have multiple sex partners, have a sexually transmitted disease, engage in rough sex, or are infected with HIV. More research is needed to better understand how and when Hepatitis C can be spread through sexual contact.

Can you get Hepatitis C by getting a tattoo or piercing?

A few major research studies have not shown Hepatitis C to be spread through licensed, commercial tattooing facilities. However, transmission of Hepatitis C (and other infectious diseases) is possible when poor infection-control practices are used during tattooing or piercing. Body art is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, and unregulated tattooing and piercing are known to occur in prisons and other informal or unregulated settings. Further research is needed to determine if these types of settings and exposures are responsible for Hepatitis C virus transmission.

Can Hepatitis C be spread within a household?

Yes, but this does not occur very often. If Hepatitis C virus is spread within a household, it is most likely a result of direct, through-the-skin exposure to the blood of an infected household member.

How should blood spills be cleaned from surfaces to make sure that Hepatitis C virus is gone?

Any blood spills — including dried blood, which can still be infectious — should be cleaned using a dilution of one part household bleach to 10 parts water. Gloves should be worn when cleaning up blood spills.

How long does the Hepatitis C virus survive outside the body?

The Hepatitis C virus can survive outside the body at room temperature, on environmental surfaces, for up to 3 weeks.

What are ways Hepatitis C is not spread?

Hepatitis C virus is not spread by sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing. It is also not spread through food or water.

Who is at risk for Hepatitis C?

Some people are at increased risk for Hepatitis C, including:

  • Current injection drug users (currently the most common way Hepatitis C virus is spread in the United States)
  • Past injection drug users, including those who injected only one time or many years ago
  • Recipients of donated blood, blood products, and organs (once a common means of transmission but now rare in the United States since blood screening became available in 1992)
  • People who received a blood product for clotting problems made before 1987
  • Hemodialysis patients or persons who spent many years on dialysis for kidney failure
  • People who received body piercing or tattoos done with non-sterile instruments
  • People with known exposures to the Hepatitis C virus, such as
  • Health care workers injured by needlesticks
  • Recipients of blood or organs from a donor who tested positive for the Hepatitis C virus
  • HIV-infected persons
  • Children born to mothers infected with the Hepatitis C virus
  • Less common risks include:
  • Having sexual contact with a person who is infected with the Hepatitis C virus
  • Sharing personal care items, such as razors or toothbrushes, that may have come in contact with the blood of an infected person