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Diseases » Hepatitis C » Contagiousness

Is Hepatitis C Contagious?

Transmission of Hepatitis C from Person to Person

Hepatitis C is considered to be contagious between people. Generally the infectious agent may be transmitted by saliva, air, cough, fecal-oral route, surfaces, blood, needles, blood transfusions, sexual contact, mother to fetus, etc.
Hepatitis C, although infectious, is not a genetic disease. It is not caused by a defective or abnormal gene.
The contagious disease, Hepatitis C, can be transmitted:

  • by sexual conduct between people.
  • from person to person by blood.
  • from the mother to her fetus.

Contagion summary:

Spread by blood; less commonly by sex; not spread by incidental contact such as handshake, hugging, kissing.

Contagiousness properties for Hepatitis C:

  Contagious by sex?: Yes

  Contagious by physical contact (non-sexual)?: No

  Contagious by handshake?: No

  Contagious from kissing?: No

  Contagious from saliva?: No

  Contagious from blood?: Yes

  Contagious from blood transfusion?: Yes

  Contagious from intravenous needle usage?: Yes

  Contagious from needlestick injury?: Yes

  Contagious from mother to fetus (transplacental)?: Yes

Contagion summary:

HCV is spread primarily by contact with blood and blood products. Blood transfusions and the use of shared, unsterilized, or poorly sterilized needles and syringes have been the main causes of the spread of HCV in the United States. With the introduction in 1991 of routine blood screening for HCV antibody and improvements in the test in mid-1992, transfusion-related hepatitis C has virtually disappeared. At present, injection drug use is the most common risk factor for contracting the disease. However, many patients acquire hepatitis C without any known exposure to blood or to drug use. (Source: excerpt from Chronic Hepatitis C Current Disease Management: NIDDK)

Primarily through contact with infected blood; less commonly, through sexual contact and childbirth. (Source: excerpt from Viral Hepatitis A to E and Beyond: NIDDK)

Discussion about Contagion of Hepatitis C:

Chronic Hepatitis C Current Disease Management: NIDDK (Excerpt)

Maternal-Infant Transmission

Maternal-infant transmission is not common. In most studies, only 5 percent of infants born to infected women become infected. The disease in newborns is usually mild and free of symptoms. The risk of maternal-infant spread rises with the amount of virus in the mother's blood. Breast-feeding has not been linked to HCV's spread.

Sexual Transmission

Sexual transmission of hepatitis C between monogamous partners appears to be uncommon. Whether hepatitis C is spread by sexual contact has not been conclusively proven, and studies have been contradictory. Surveys of spouses and monogamous sexual partners of patients with hepatitis C show that less than 5 percent are infected with HCV, and many of these have other risk factors for this infection. For this reason, changes in sexual practices are not recommended for monogamous patients. Testing sexual partners for anti-HCV can help with patient counseling. People with multiple sex partners should be advised to follow safe sex practices, which should protect against hepatitis C as well as hepatitis B and HIV.

Sporadic Transmission

Sporadic transmission, when the source of infection is unknown, occurs in about 10 percent of acute hepatitis C cases and in 30 percent of chronic hepatitis C cases. These cases are also referred to as sporadic or community-acquired infections. These infections may have come from exposure to the virus from cuts, wounds, or medical injections or procedures. (Source: excerpt from Chronic Hepatitis C Current Disease Management: NIDDK)

Facts About Hepatitis A and C: CDC-OC (Excerpt)

Hepatitis C is transmitted by blood, sexual contact, and from mother-to-infant (Source: excerpt from Facts About Hepatitis A and C: CDC-OC)

Facts About Hepatitis C: CDC-OC (Excerpt)

HCV is not spread by sneezing, hugging, coughing, breast feeding, food or water, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, or casual contact. Tattooing and body piercing are not associated with HCV infection. (Source: excerpt from Facts About Hepatitis C: CDC-OC)

Breastfeeding: NWHIC (Excerpt)

Hepatitis C is another virus that may be transmitted through breastfeeding if the mother has cracked or bleeding nipples. Otherwise, the risk of Hepatitis C is the same whether breast or bottle fed. (Source: excerpt from Breastfeeding: NWHIC)

About contagion and contagiousness:

Contagion and contagiousness refers to how easily the spread of Hepatitis C is possible from one person to another. Other words for contagion include "infection", "infectiousness", "transmission" or "transmissability". Contagiousness has nothing to do with genetics or inheriting diseases from parents. For an overview of contagion, see Introduction to Contagion.


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