Hepatitis C Transmission
Hepatitis C affects 3.3% percent of the world’s population. A social stigma resonates in the community that hepatitis C, just like HIV, spreads from person to person through body fluids. To some extent, it is true, but not entirely.
It is highly unlikely to contract the infection through sexual contact. Unsafe drug injections, blood transfusions, and unhygienic practices with an infected person will make the virus infect a healthy individual. Since the disease remains asymptomatic for many days or months, the chances of transmission will go unnoticed.
There are some specific ways through which the virus spreads to healthy individuals. Let us look into them in detail.
Unsafe Drug Use
Sharing the same drug injection needle by different individuals is the primary cause of transmission of the hepatitis C virus (HCV). There are over 10 million people who are infected with hepatitis C through drug injections.
Recent studies indicate that the risk of HCV infection is 10-20% higher in prison inmates in the United States of America. It is because of the overuse of injectable drug use and non-sterile tattoo instruments.
Other modes of drug abuse, such as pipes, and straws, can also pave the way for the virus to spread among individuals.
The risk of HCV transmission through blood transfusions is significantly higher. Few countries, due to cost constraints, do not screen the blood for hepatitis C before transfusion. The United States of America and Canada have mandated universal screening to prevent hospital infections of hepatitis C through blood transfusions.
Other modes of blood transfusions that can cause HCV infection are:
- Organ transplant procedures
- Mucosal contact with the blood of an infected person
- Unsterilized use of vials and needles
- Multiple-use of medicinal vials
- Hospital equipment, such as improperly sterilized equipment, and transfusion bags
The chance of infection HCV due to needle injury in hospitals is only 1.8%. It depends on how hollow the needle is and the depth of the needle wound.
- A monogamous relationship has significantly less chance of transmission of HCV through sexual intercourse. Anogenital injuries caused during anal sex might increase the chances of transmission.
- Other factors, such as genital ulcers and sex during the menstrual cycle, can increase HCV transmission. People with multiple sex partners must have protection to prevent infection.
- People with HIV will be at greater risk of getting HCV infection through sex, irrespective of their sexual partners.
Tattoos and Piercings
Nonsterile tattoo needles and ink contaminated with an infected person’s blood pose a greater risk of transmission. As mentioned earlier, this practice is common among inmates in the United States. The risk of transmission through tattoo procedures increases with the tattoo’s size: the bigger the tattoo, the higher the risk of transmission.
Since the prison inmates share non-sterilized tattoo needles and contaminated ink, there is a significant rise in HCV cases.
Body piercing practices also impose a significant risk of HCV transmission. But the risk of transmission in a licensed facility is less.
Sharing Personal Items
Personal hygiene is another critical factor that will affect the transmission of the hepatitis C virus. Sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, shaving kits, and nail clippers will significantly increase the infection transmission rate.
Transmission During Pregnancy
There is no clear evidence at what time HCV infects the fetus from an infected mother. It can be during gestation or at the time of delivery. There’s about a 10% chance of infection from mother to baby during pregnancy.
There are no procedures that can lower the chances of transmission of HCV from mother to baby. However, there is no evidence to prove HCV transmission through breastfeeding.
The odds of transmission of HCV from mother to baby are higher if the mother has HIV.
Hepatitis C Virus Does Not Spread Through:
- Sharing the same clothes
- Food utensils and dishes
- Shaking hands
- Mosquito or any other insect bites
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