Hepatitis C is spread when the blood of someone carrying the virus gets into the bloodstream of another person. This usually happens through breaks in the skin or breaks in the soft lining of the nose, mouth or anus. Hepatitis C is a strong virus and can live outside of the body for many days. Dried blood can also pass the virus.
These are some of the ways Hepatitis C can get inside your body:
Unsafe medical practices such as surgeries, blood transfusions and vaccinations reusing equipment that is not sterilized (is not clean).
- Blood transfusions done in Canada before 1992, which were high-risk because routine blood screening for the virus did not begin until that year. Transfusions are a risk if blood is not screened. If you had a transfusion before coming to Canada, you might have received blood that was not screened.
- Shared needles and equipment used for preparing and injecting medicines and drugs, which can have blood on them—sometimes tiny amounts that you can’t see. Sharing equipment even one time is high-risk. The glass pipes, straws or money people use to inhale or snort drugs can carry blood from cracked lips or tiny nosebleeds.
- Shared tattoo, body-piercing or acupuncture equipment. The ink, needles and equipment can carry blood and transmit Hepatitis C if unsterilized equipment is reused.
Shared or borrowed personal items like razors, toothbrushes or nail clippers that might have blood on them can transmit hepatitis C. Public barbers, for example, might reuse razors that have not been sterilized.
Unprotected sex where blood could be present (for example, during menstruation, rough or anal sex) can transmit the virus.
During pregnancy or childbirth. The risk of passing the virus to a baby during pregnancy or childbirth is very low. There is no risk of passing hepatitis C during breastfeeding as long as the nipples are not cracked or bleeding.