Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact. Intravenous drug use and blood infusions can expose the patient to the virus.
Sharing drug equipment, such as needles and syringes, may expose someone to infected blood. Injection drug use is responsible for 60% of new cases of hepatitis C each year.
A blood supply is screened for conditions that can be transmitted via blood, such as HCV. It was, however, not common for healthcare professionals to screen for HCV prior to 1992. Before this time, people who received blood transfusions or organ transplants may have been at higher risk of contracting HCV.
There are other ways hepatitis C can spread, though they are less common:
- There is a small chance that a person with hepatitis C will transmit the infection to their infant, about 6%.
- If healthcare professionals do not follow proper procedures, there is a chance of transmitting hepatitis C if they are exposed to a person’s blood.
- Sexual contact with a person infected with hepatitis C: Though rare, sexual contact can spread the disease. There are several risk factors that can contribute to STIs, including having sex with more than one partner and having anal sex.
- Items such as blood glucose monitors, razors, and toothbrushes may have a person’s blood on them, and if shared, may transmit the disease.
- AIDS: AIDS suppresses the immune system and spreads similarly to HCV. Consequently, HIV-positive individuals are at an increased risk of developing hepatitis C. HCV is estimated to be coinfected with 15-30% of HIV-positive individuals.
- Using unsterilized tattoo needles and reusing tattoo ink: Tattooing involves injecting ink into the dermis layer of the skin with a small needle. An infected person’s blood may be present on the needle or the ink the artist is using.
Other tattoo risks
When tattooing equipment is not sterilized, other bloodborne viruses, such as hepatitis B and HIV, can also be transmitted.
Ink allergies are another health risk associated with tattoos. Some people develop allergic reactions immediately after getting a tattoo, while others develop them a few weeks or decades later. Allergic reactions may cause the following symptoms:
- redness and swelling
- deep lumps
- fluid leaking from the affected area
If sterilized equipment is not used or if the appropriate tattoo aftercare is not followed, tattoos can result in open wounds in the skin that can become infected. It is possible for an infected tattoo to cause the following:
- pain that continues or worsens after the tattoo
- pus and open sores
When the infection becomes more severe, a person may develop a fever and experience:
Various antibiotics and, in some cases, surgery may be used to treat these infections.