Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by a viral infection. This common blood-borne viral infection often spreads through sexual practices that expose people to blood.
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) causes the liver infection hepatitis C. The infection can be short-lived (acute) or long-term (chronic).
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 71 million Trusted Source people have chronic hepatitis C. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that there were 50,300 Trusted Source acute hepatitis C infections in the United States in 2018.
This article will explore the sexual transmission of hepatitis C. It will also cover other modes of transmission, hepatitis C diagnosis, and the current treatment options.
Scientists have identified seven strains Trusted Source, or genotypes, of HCV that can cause hepatitis C. The HCV strain a person has can dictate the treatment type that is most appropriate for them.
Genotype 1 is the most common HCV genotype Trusted Source in the United States. The next two most common genotypes are genotypes 2 and 3.
The virus causes acuteTrusted Source and chronic infections. Acute infections are shorter while chronic infections can be life-long.
Someone without HCV can contract the virus through sex without a condom or other barrier method if they come into contact with blood that contains HCV. However, the risk through this mode of transmission is lowTrusted Source.
A 2014 studyTrusted Source found that the likelihood of sexual transmission of HCV among heterosexual couples was low and that the risk per sexual contact was 1 per 380,000.
According to the CDC,Trusted Source out of 1,350 cases of acute hepatitis C reported in 2018 in the United States, 105 people reported sexual contact as a risk behavior.
Men who have sex with men are at a higher riskTrusted Source of transmitting HCV. A 2019 studyTrusted Source found that the incidence of sexually transmitted acute hepatitis C virus infection in both HIV-positive and HIV-negative men who have sex with men was higher.
Some sexual practices, such as anal sex Trusted Source, can increase the risk of transmitting HCV. The risk is higher as the tissue of the rectum can be torn and lead to blood exposure. Similarly, sex during menstruation can also increase the risk of transmitting HCV.
However, the virus may spread if a person has cuts or breaks in the lining of the mouth or if a person has open sores or bleeding gums.
Certain practices can transmit hepatitis C, including Trusted Source:
- drug use through injection (also known as injection drug use or IDU) and sharing needles
- improper sterilization and reusing of medical equipment
- use of unscreened blood and blood products in transfusions
- sexual practices that increase the likelihood of blood exposure
Other modes of transmission also exist, but these are low risk or rare. These includeTrusted Source:
- sharing items that have traces of blood, such as toothbrushes or razors
- needlestick injuries in hospital or healthcare settings
- unregulated tattooing