The HCV is a bloodborne pathogen. It means that if a person is exposed to blood from an infectious person, they can spread the disease.

In fact, chronic hepatitis C is the most common bloodborne pathogen infection, affecting an estimated 2.4 million people in the United States.

Hepatitis C causes inflammation in your liver, but sometimes doesn’t present other symptoms for months or even years. Many people who have hepatitis C are unaware that they have it, meaning they can unknowingly spread the virus to others. If you have untreated hepatitis C, your infection can progress from acute to chronic.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C, although there are vaccines for hepatitis A and B. Treatment with antiviral medication can help your body clear the infection and prevent long-term complications.

We know a lot about the spread and prevention of the disease.

The only way to spread a bloodborne pathogen like the hepatitis C is through contact with blood. Acute or chronic infections of the disease are infectious.

There is an overview of how the disease can be transmitted.

IV drug use

Intravenous (IV) drug use is a common way that hepatitis C is spread in the United States. People who share equipment used to inject drugs are at a higher risk of hepatitis C than people who don’t use these types of drugs.

Even if a person is not showing symptoms of the disease, needles and syringes can still be contaminated with the virus. Some of the blood from someone who has the virus and injects a drug stays in the needle. When a person uses the same needle, they are sending blood to each other.

People who inject drugs, including heroin, should be tested for bloodborne viruses.

Another virus commonly spread through IV drug use is HIV.

Addressing IV drug use and hepatitis C spread

If you want to prevent IV drug use from causing the transmission of the hepatitis, stop injecting or cease doing so.

If you are living with a substance use disorder, know that you’re not alone and help is available. Visit SAMHSA’s treatment locater page to find resources and support options in your area.

Many states also have clinics or stations that provide clean, new needles and syringes. These syringe service programs (SSP) have been shown to reduce hepatitis and HIV transmission through IV drug use by around 50 percent.

Blood transfusions and medical equipment

When researchers first detected hepatitis C, blood transfusions were a notable cause of spreading the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you received a blood transfusion or an organ donation prior to 1992, your risk of hepatitis C is higher.

The World Health Organization notes that medical equipment that hasn’t been properly sterilized and blood that hasn’t been properly screened has driven hepatitis transmission in the past.

But these days, with advancements in technology and medical hygiene, getting a blood transfusion very rarely results in spreading hepatitis C. Advanced screening methods for blood transfusions have brought the chances of acquiring hepatitis down to one blood unit out of 2 million.

People who have tested positive for hepatitis B or C at any point in their lives are also now restricted from donating blood as an extra precaution.

Sex without protection

Hepatitis C is not often spread through sexual contact, but it can happen. Certain types of sexual activity have been linked with an increased risk of hepatitis C transmission.

These include:

  • Sex during menstruation.
  • Anal sex.
  • Having multiple sex partners.
  • Sex with people who use drugs.

During pregnancy

“People who are pregnant can pass the disease to their fetus. This doesn’t happen often.”

Six percent of babies born to a mother who has hepatitis C will be born with the virus. If you are pregnant, you should get tested for hepatitis C at least once during your pregnancy.

Learn more about testing for hepatitis C.

Unsafe tattoo and piercing practices

“If you get a tattoo or piercing at a place that isn’t regulated, you can be at risk for diseases like hepatitis C.”

Make sure you see a professional who is licensed when you are looking for a piercing or tattoo. Artists in states that do not require licensing still need to register with an enforcement agency to ensure they are following proper safety and hygiene practices.

There are no noticeable signs of the disease. Symptoms may not appear until the infection becomes chronic.


If you develop symptoms of acute hepatitis C, some or all of these symptoms may appear 1 to 3 months after you have been exposed to blood from an infected person.

Symptoms of an acute hepatitis C infection can be seen.


Symptoms of chronic hepatitis C may not appear until you have had the infection for some time.

Chronic hepatitis C is linked to serious, long-term health complications, such as liver cirrhosis.

Other symptoms may include:

  • unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness in the muscles.
  • There are signs of jaundice, which is yellowing of your eyes or skin.

Some people who have hepatitis C may naturally clear the infection with their immune system without treatment. This is called a “self-limiting” infection, but it’s not a guarantee, and only happens for 10 to 15 percent of people who get hepatitis C.

If left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, and even liver cancer. That’s why treatment is recommended for anyone who gets the virus.

Direct-acting antiviral medications are available to treat hepatitis C. Antivirals aim to slow or stop the virus from multiplying, giving your immune system time to respond. This treatment typically consists of 8-12 weeks of taking medicine in an oral tablet form. These treatments work for 90 percent of people with the virus.

While you are taking medication for the disease, your doctor will likely advise you to rest and make sure your body is free of the disease.

The importance of timely treatment

The introduction of drugs that can cure the virus has been a game-changer.

Taking care of your treatment regimen is important to managing a hepatitis C infection. Follow up appointments are always a good idea, and you should always take your medication.

There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C. However, you can get vaccinated for hepatitis A and hepatitis B.

Prevention strategies include:

  • Knowing your risk factors.
  • Understanding how the disease is spread.
  • Avoid situations where you could be exposed to blood from a person with the disease.
  • If using IV drugs, clean equipment or stop drug use.
  • practicing safe sex.

“You can get the disease more than once. You can still contract the virus even after you have had it successfully treated. You can’t assume you’re immune to the whole virus.”

Screening can also help limit the spread of hepatitis C. The CDC recommends regular hepatitis C testing for people who are considered at higher risk for the virus.

IV drug use is a common route of transmission of the disease. It can be spread by other activities that involve blood contact, such as tattooing and piercing equipment.

Many people who have hepatitis C don’t have symptoms and are unaware they have the virus. This is why Knowing your risk factors., how the virus spreads, and getting hepatitis screenings are important. If you believe you have symptoms of hepatitis C, or test positive for the virus, it’s important to seek treatment right away.

The fast-acting antiviral medication can help you deal with a hepatitis C infection and decrease your risk of serious consequences. We can work together to get transmission rates down.