How to Reduce Your Risk of Getting Hepatitis C

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is spread through contact with infected blood. There are many ways a person can be exposed. Fortunately, there are also many steps you can take to reduce the risk of exposure or transmitting the virus to someone else.

The ways to reduce your chance of getting or transmitting HCV may vary depending on your own health risks. Groups at highest risk for HCV infection include:1-3

  • People who inject drugs
  • Healthcare workers
  • People who have certain types of sex
  • Children born to mothers who have HCV

People who inject drugs (PWID)

Injection drug use is the most common way HCV is transmitted today. If you or someone you know injects drugs, there are several ways to reduce the risk of HCV transmission. These steps focus on preventing blood from remaining on surfaces or being introduced to another person through shared equipment. Examples include:1

  • Avoid sharing needles or syringes with others
  • Use syringes from reliable sources, like pharmacies or needle exchange programs
  • Avoid sharing other equipment used to prepare or inject drugs, like cottons, alcohol swabs, water, ties, cookers, and more
  • Separate equipment to prevent accidental sharing
  • Clean down surfaces before preparing drugs
  • Clean drug injection sites with soap and water or alcohol before injecting
  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after injecting
  • Avoid syringes with detachable needles (to prevent leftover blood remaining in syringes)
  • Safely dispose of equipment after use
  • Regularly get tested for HIV, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B

Healthcare workers

It is possible for healthcare workers to come into contact with HCV through contaminated equipment. A major source of exposure is through accidental needle sticks. Common ways to reduce the risk of transmission in healthcare settings include:2

  • Get all required vaccinations, including the hepatitis B vaccine
  • Follow all protocols and report safety concerns to supervisors
  • Report faulty equipment, including syringes and needles
  • Dispose of all equipment safely
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves and eye protection
  • Report potential exposures right away
  • Frequently wash hands with soap and water
  • Complete all required safety trainings

Sexual transmission

Although rare, it is possible to transmit HCV through sex, especially in situations where blood may be present. People with multiple sexual partners and men who have sex with men are the most vulnerable.

HCV is also more likely to be transmitted alongside other infections, like HIV. Common ways to reduce risk of transmission through sexual contact include:3

  • Use barrier protection during sex, including condoms
  • Undergo regular testing for other infections that can be sexually transmitted, such as HIV
  • Have sex with partners who also undergo regular testing for sexually transmitted infections
  • Take precautions during rough sex
  • Avoid having sex during a partner’s menstrual cycle
  • Avoid having sex when open wounds or sores are present
  • Thoroughly clean all sex toys between uses

Other ways to reduce risk

As mentioned, there are many ways HCV can be transmitted. Even though some of these are incredibly rare, the potential for transmission still exists:2,3

  • Avoid sharing items that can come into contact with blood, like razors or toothbrushes
  • Only get tattoos, manicures, and body piercings at businesses that use thorough cleaning techniques
  • Using bleach-containing cleaners, fully clean home surfaces or tools that may have come into contact with blood

Testing and treatment

The only way to know if you have HCV is to get tested. If you think you may have been exposed to HCV, talk with your doctor. The good news is, HCV progresses slowly and is curable with treatment.

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Written by: Casey Hribar | Last reviewed: August 2021