Before 1992, anyone who received a blood product, blood transfusion, an organ transplant or those who received clotting factors before 1987 may have become infected with hepatitis C. Now, the blood supply, blood products, organs and clotting factors are screened for HCV.

Additional risks

Another risk factor for HCV is people who receive dialysis. This is when the kidneys can not remove toxins from the blood, and a machine is used to filter the blood of toxins. The machine that is used to filter the blood can not be effectively sterilized. As a result, people who receive dialysis are tested on a regular basis for HCV and other diseases.

One common transmission route of HCV is from sharing needles and drug equipment (cookers, cotton, water, ties, etc.) to inject drugs. People who share needles and drug equipment to inject vitamins, hormones and steroids are also at risk for contracting hepatitis C. Do not share needles or any other drug equipment including water. Use needle exchange.

At risk populations

Health care workers are at risk for HCV from direct blood exposure or a needle stick accident. All healthcare workers can reduce the risk by following Standard Safety Precautions. Children born to HCV-positive mothers are at risk from HCV. There is about a 6 percent chance of a baby becoming infected from a mother who is HCV positive. At this time, there are no effective interventions to prevent transmission from mother-to-child.

"Sneezing, coughing, hugging, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses does not spread hepatitis C."

Sexual transmission of hepatitis C is uncommon in people who are in a long-term sexual relationship with only one person. Sexual transmission in all other groups of people who engage in sex is higher and safer sex practices are recommended. Another area of concern is people who receive a tattoo and piercing.

A person who receives a tattoo or piercing in a commercial parlor, however, that practices safety precautions—sterilized equipment, new needles, uses gloves, separate ink pot—is considered safe. People who have received a non-commercial piercing or tattoo is should be tested. Similarly, household transmission is uncommon. To reduce the risk even more razors, toothbrushes or any item that can come into contact with blood should not be shared.

There are certain populations that have either shared transmission routes or higher rates of HCV compared to the general population. This includes people with HIV, people who served in the Vietnam War and those who have been or who currently incarcerated. The group that has the highest prevalence of HCV is the baby boom population. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that every person born 1945–1965 should have a one-time hepatitis C test. This would identify more than 800,000 people with hepatitis C and save thousands of lives

Dispelling myth

Sneezing, coughing, hugging, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses does not spread hepatitis C.

If you have a risk factor for hepatitis C and haven’t been tested, consider doing so—it just might save your life.