• Hepatitis C spreads when your blood comes into contact with infected blood.

    • It can't spread through saliva or sharing bathrooms.
    • There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is a virus that lives in the blood. It spreads from one person to another when infected blood from one person gets into someone else’s blood. We call this blood-to-blood contact. Even tiny amounts of blood that you can't see can spread the virus.

You cannot get hepatitis C from:

  • touching
  • kissing
  • coughing and sneezing
  • sharing food
  • sharing bathrooms or toilets

There are things you can do to protect yourself from getting hepatitis C. You should limit ways that your blood can come into contact with someone else's blood. We call this blood safety.

 There are many ways contact with blood can happen. Some ways have a greater chance of spreading the virus than others. If you think there is a chance you have come into contact with hepatitis C, you should get tested.

What are the ways you can get hepatitis C?

Sharing or re-using other people’s needles, syringes and injecting equipment
very high to high-risk

You are more likely to get hepatitis C if you share needles and syringes with others. This might be when using drugs, steroids or anything else. Even if you last injected drugs many years ago, you should still get a hepatitis C test.

 Other things used to prepare drugs can also spread hepatitis C. Such as:

  • spoons
  • filters
  • water
  • tourniquets
  • swabs

Even tiny amounts of blood that you can't see can have the virus. You can get safe equipment and disposal services through Needle and Syringe Programs (NSPs). These services are all around Australia. You can find your nearest one at https://nspdirectory.aivl.org.au/

People with blood clotting conditions who had blood products or plasma-derived clotting factor treatment products before 1993
high-risk

People with bleeding conditions like haemophilia are more likely to get hepatitis C. This is because they may have used blood products or human plasma-derived clotting factor treatment products to manage their bleeding.

Australia has screened the blood supply for hepatitis C since 1993. This means that you are not likely to get the virus from these blood products now. But, people who had these products before 1993 are more likely to get hepatitis C. See below if you want to know more about the chance of getting hepatitis C from blood transfusions in Australia.

Other practices that involve blood
high risk

Practices using blades, knives or needles can make spreading the virus more likely. ‘Blood brother’ rituals involve direct blood-to-blood contact. You are very likely to get infected if one person has hepatitis C. Sharing tools for branding or self-harming also makes you more likely to come into contact with infected blood.

Tattooing and body piercing
moderate to low risk

Tattooing and body piercing can make you more likely to get hepatitis C. They can spread infected blood because they use needles. You are not likely to get hepatitis C at a professional tattooist in Australia.  This is because there are rules in place to stop the virus spreading.

You are more also more likely to get hepatitis C from tattoos and piercings done:

  • in prisons and backyards, because it's harder to clean tools well
  • in countries where there are poor rules about health standards
  • by workers that don't know enough about how to stop the spread of germs
  • in countries that have higher numbers of people with hepatitis C. This is because it's more likely for equipment to come into contact with infected blood.

Make sure body artists are working out of clean, established business places. They should also be registered with the local council. You can check that they know the Code of Practice for Skin Penetration Procedures. Ask them to talk about it with you.

Transmission at birth 
medium to low risk

There is about a 5% chance that a baby will get hep C during childbirth if the mother has hepatitis C. The risk is the same for vaginal births and caesarean births. Fathers who are hep C-positive cannot pass the virus on to their babies either when the baby is conceived, or during pregnancy.4

If you are thinking about getting pregnant and have hepatitis C, you should talk to your doctor about getting cured first.

Medical care overseas or blood transfusions in Australia prior to 1990
moderate to low risk

There is about a 5% chance that a baby will get hepatitis C during birth if the mother has it.  Fathers who have hepatitis C can't pass the virus on to their babies. If you are thinking about getting pregnant and have hepatitis C, talk to your doctor about getting cured first. You shouldn't take hepatitis C medicine while you're pregnant or breastfeeding. But you can take it after.

Medical care overseas or blood transfusions in Australia before 1990
moderate to low risk

Some countries do not screen donated blood for hepatitis C. Surgical tools may also be unclean. This means it is more likely for the virus to spread. In Australia, donated blood is very safe. This is because we have screened for hepatitis C since 1990.

In Australia, most health workers know about how to clean equipment and stop the spread of germs. So it is very unlikely for hepatitis C to spread this way.

Sharing of drug snorting equipment
low risk

Straws or other things used for sniffing drugs can damage the lining inside the nose. This can cause small amounts of blood to get onto the straw. Blood-to-blood contact can happen if someone else uses the same straw and also damages the lining of their nose.

Sexual activity 
low risk

You are not likely to get hepatitis C through sex. But, there is a chance of hepatitis C spreading if there are open wounds or blood present during sex.

You are more likely to get hepatitis C if you have anal sex without a condom. This is more likely if you have HIV. You can protect yourself by using a condom.

Sharing of household items 
very low risk

It is very unlikely for hepatitis C to spread through sharing household items. But it's best not to share razor blades, tweezers and toothbrushes. Brushing your teeth can cause bleeding gums, so sharing your toothbrush can cause blood-to-blood contact. Razor blades and tweezers can also lead to blood-to-blood contact between people.

Needle-stick injuries
very low risk

A needlestick injury is an accidental injury from a needle that has someone else's blood. It is more likely to happen to health workers. It can also happen to members of the public who come across used syringes. You can get hepatitis C this way but it is not very likely. If this happens to you, you should wash the source of the wound with soap and water. You can use an alcohol-based rub if you can't get soap and water. You should see a doctor as soon as you can.

Breastfeeding 
extremely low risk

Breastfeeding does not spread hepatitis C. Your baby can not get hepatitis C from your breast milk. You should stop breastfeeding if you have cracked and bleeding nipples. This is because hepatitis C spreads by blood. If this happens to you, talk to a midwife. It's a good idea to breastfeed whether or not you have hepatitis C.


Find out more

Call the National Hepatitis Infoline if you want to know more about how hepatitis C spreads: 1800 437 222.

Use the following links to find out more about hepatitis C

About hepatitis C

Symptoms of hepatitis C

Testing for hepatitis C

Hepatitis C cures

 

REFERENCES

Hepatitis C. Better Health Channel, Victorian Government Department of Health

Screening and diagnosis. Hep C Guidelines, ASHM

How hepatitis C transmission happens. CATIE

Indications for HCV Testing, Testing Portal, ASHM

Managing Occupational Risks for Hepatitis C Transmission in the Health Care Setting.  David K. Henderson. DOI: 10.1128/CMR.16.3.546-568.2003

Needlestick injury. Better Health Channel, Victorian Government Department of Health

Management of Hepatitis C in pregnancy. RANZCOG

 

Page updated 10 November 2022