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How is hepatitis C (HCV) transmitted?

The hepatitis C virus can spread (be transmitted) in many ways.

  • IV drug use: The hepatitis C virus can spread among those who abuse intravenous (IV) drugs. The virus can also pass from person to person with intranasal use of drugs – that is, snorting drugs like cocaine. Sharing the straw used during snorting can pass the virus from one person to the next.
  • Tattoos and piercings:  The hepatitis C virus can spread through needles and live several days in tattoo ink. People who received tattoos many years ago before the introduction of sterilization techniques may be at risk for hepatitis C. If you get a tattoo or piercing, confirm that it is a legitimate business and that the person uses new ink and new needles.
  • Sexual contact: It’s not common, but hepatitis C can spread through sex. The risk goes up if you have other sexually transmitted diseases. For example, three in 10 people with HIV have hepatitis.
  • Dialysis: Anyone who is on kidney dialysis should be screened for hepatitis C every six to 12 months. Hepatitis C occurs in about 8% of people on hemodialysis.
  • Blood transfusions: Hepatitis C spread was found in some blood product transfusions before 1992 – before doctors knew to screen the supply for the virus.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider.

Hepatitis C is spread through blood infected with the virus. It can also be transmitted through IV drug use, unprotected sex, unsterile piercings or tattoos or exposure to infected blood, and may be passed from mother to baby during birth. People can continue passing the virus for decades after they are infected.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.