DOCTOR'S VIEWS ARCHIVE
Topic: Hepatitis C, June 2000
Who are at increased risk of getting hepatitis C? Can hepatitis C be transmitted sexually?
Dr. Edward Block:
Blood transfusion used to be a major risk factor. Fortunately, as a result of the increased stringency requirements, blood transfusions are no longer a major risk factor in this country. So, our viewers should know that if they should ever require a blood transfusion, they should feel fairly secure because the risk for hepatitis C exposure from blood transfusion is very small.
At this time, the principal risk for acquiring hepatitis C appears to be the use of injection drugs, primarily IV drug abuse. IV drug users comprise upwards of 40% of those who are diagnosed with new cases of hepatitis C. Other high-risk activities include other drug use (including intra-nasal cocaine use). People with multiple sex partners are also considered to be at high risk (although the actual risk of sexual transfer of this disease is thought to be relatively low).
As opposed to, let's say, sexual transmission of Hepatitis B.
There is probably some small risk of sexual transmission here and certainly it would be prudent to tell our viewers that if they are known to be hepatitis C positive and are single that they should take appropriate precautions, such as the use of condoms.
The more difficult issue is how to counsel husbands and wives. My advice is that if you have been living successfully with some one for many years and that someone is diagnosed as having hepatitis C, yet you are still infection free, then sexual activity should continue unchanged.
People receiving tattoos are also felt to be at risk, particularly if needles have been reused.
There are some household risks to people who live with patients who have hepatitis C through use of utensils that could possibly spread blood. People in prisons have an increased risk.
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