Even though many people are now being cured of hepatitis C, it continues to be very important to prevent the transmission of the virus between people.  This is also important if you who have already been cured of the infection. The current treatment only cures the current infection but does not vaccinate you against further infection, so it is important to take precautions to prevent getting hep C again.

Injecting drug use

The hep C virus is commonly transmitted through injecting drug use. Anyone who has ever shared injecting equipment may have hep C. It doesn’t matter what was injected: heroin, methadone, speed or steroids. Many people have also got hep C from trying drugs just once or twice, even if it was decades ago.

It’s important to inject drugs as safely as possible to avoid catching hep C or passing it on to others. If you inject drugs, think about the following tips and wherever possible, share the information with other people who inject drugs to help everyone stay healthy:

  • Wash hands before and after injecting, using soapy water.
  • Use a sterile needle and syringe every time.
  • Don’t share any equipment (e.g. spoons, swabs, tourniquet, water) when preparing and injecting drugs.
  • Wipe down all surfaces where the injection is being prepared with bleach or detergent and water.
  • Never be injected by someone or help someone else inject. This can transmit blood from fingertips to the injection site.
  • Immediately after using, dispose of needles and syringes in sharps containers.

Australia has a Needle and Syringe Program (NSP), so that health centres, clinics and pharmacies throughout the country can provide sterile injecting equipment free of charge. Ring the National Hepatitis Info Line on 1800 437 222 or contact your local state or territory hepatitis organisation to find out where the nearest NSP outlet is to you.

Tattooing, body piercing and other beauty procedures

If you get a tattoo or body piercing, make sure you always go to a professional, registered studio. All registered studios are required by law to operate according to Department of Health guidelines. Registered premises should display their certificate of registration.

Most importantly, you should check that the worker uses ‘standard infection control practices’. The operator must be able to explain to you how they stop infections spreading from one customer to another. You can also ask your tattooist whether they have completed ‘certification in cross contamination procedure’ (this is law in Queensland but nowhere else in Australia).

If you decide to get a tattoo, body piercing, or other beauty procedure such as manicure or pedicure overseas in a developing country, it is especially important to check the studio or salon carefully for all the things mentioned above, as there may be no rules in that country to safeguard your health. The staff may not have had good training about infection control or understand the need to properly sterilise equipment to kill all germs and viruses. The best rule is, ‘if in doubt, don’t do it’!

It is potentially very risky to undertake ‘backyard’ tattooing or body piercing procedures at home or with your friends because of the risk of blood-to-blood contact, and the importance of understanding about infection control. Professional autoclave or other sterilising equipment that will kill all germs and viruses is essential – not just soap and water.

During sex

If there is a risk of blood-to-blood contact during sex, or if there is a risk of you or your partner having a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it is recommended you use condoms and water-based lubricant.

Blood donation

People who have hep C cannot donate blood because this would pass on the virus to other people. Even after clearing the virus people cannot donate blood, because they continue to carry antibodies for many years. .

Preventing transmission around the home

There are not many things that people living with hep C need to do differently around the home. Simply living with, or being around a person with hep C is not a risk for passing on the virus. However, if you have hep C, care should be taken not to share your razors, toothbrushes, tweezers and other sharp grooming tools because they could carry small amounts of your blood.

If you get a cut or a graze, cover it straight away with a band-aid or dressing. This will lessen the risk of your blood coming into contact with someone else’s blood if they have a cut, sore or graze too. Any blood spills on surfaces such as bench tops can be cleaned up with bleach and a disposable cloth. Place old dressings and any cloths used to wipe blood into a plastic bag before putting in the garbage bin.

It’s a good idea to carry some spare band-aids with you when outside the home so that you can cover up any accidental cuts straight away.

Page updated 06 June 2017