Can hepatitis C be transmitted through skin to skin contact?
Hepatitis C is primarily spread through exposure to a person who has infected blood. This can be via a blood transfusion prior to 1992 when hospitals began to test blood or blood products or through organ donation (from donor to recipient) for hepatitis C. It can also be via contaminated needles. These needles may come in contact with the skin, either through the use of injected IV drugs or through the experience of being used for tattooing or body piercing. Although breast milk does not carry the virus, nipples that crack or bleed can lead to infant exposure during breast feeding. Hepatitis C is not transmitted via holding hands, hugging, kissing, via bug bites, or through the general contact of one person to another in a public setting such as working near an infected person or bumping into them on public transportation. Touching common surfaces such as public restrooms or door handles does not transmit hepatitis C as there is no record of any hepatitis C infection beginning via skin to skin or skin to surface transmission.
I’ve heard there is a rash associated with Hepatitis C. What is it?
Hepatitis C symptoms are often associated with liver damage or abdominal pain due to liver damage. Although these are the most commonly recognized symptoms, there are some other common symptoms that may also be indicative of a hepatitis C infection. These include jaundice (the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), dark urine, light-coloring of the stool, an increase in fatigue, or one or more skin rashes. These rashes are not contagious as they are symptoms of the hepatitis C virus. However, it is always recommended that anyone with any open wound try to prevent it from touching others, largely due to the attempt to prevent infection of the wound via external contaminants.
How do I know if I have this rash?
The most common skin rash related to hepatitis C (hep C) is called urticaria. This occurs when the body is trying to fight off the hep C infection on its own (before any medical treatment is provided). The rash is typically itchy and widespread, which means it might be on numerous and various places on the body. The rash is red and might lead to skin swelling, which can occur in rounds that last for many hours; it might even appear to be an allergic reaction.
For someone with a longer existing hepatitis C infection, there may be prolonged or chronic liver damage. This sometimes leads to a rash called lichen planus. This can involve the scalp, skin, mouth, nails, and genitalia. It can appear to be white and patchy or scaly, resembling patches of very dry skin or eczema. Sometimes, the rash may appear to look like dark spots, much like round scabs on a patch of the body. In other cases, there is what is called pruritus, which is simply the sensation of being itchy without a visible reason for the itch. This may sound confusing, but it is simply the feeling of needing to scratch somewhere, without there being anything visible when you look at where you are scratching. This is not any sort of emergency, though it may feel scary since most times scratching occurs when there is some sort of rash, mark, or injury present.
Sometimes, there is no rash or itching sensation, but the skin is instead showing generalized symptoms of liver problems. This state of damage can cause symptoms to appear on the skin. These are a different type of skin appearance than urticaria. This may or may not be red, it is often itchy, but it tends to be in one spot (unlike urticaria, which can be in many places at once). In addition, this may give the impression to be “spider vein-like” in appearance or look like brown or dry skin patches.
What do I do if I have one or more of these rashes?
First, schedule an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist. Not every skin rash is indicative of a hepatitis C infection or of liver damage. Your physician will be able to identify your rash and either explain why it is occurring or order tests to verify or rule out other illnesses, including hepatitis C. If you are diagnosed with hepatitis C, your physician will be able to provide you with both the test results and the information so you can begin to understand what happens next to rid your body of the virus. Together, you and your doctor will plan a course of action that fits with your insurance, your budget, and your individual medical needs.