Hepatitis C is mainly spread through direct contact with the blood of an infected person. This can happen in a number of ways:
Medical or dental treatment
Hepatitis C can be spread during medical or dental treatment in a country where hepatitis C is common and where infection control measures may not be effective. This includes injections where the needle may have been unsterile or used for more than one person.
Blood transfusions and blood products
Some countries do not routinely test blood donors for hepatitis C. So if you’ve had a blood transfusion or a blood product back home, you may have been exposed to the virus. You may also be at risk, if you have had an organ or tissue transplant back home.
If you acquired hepatitis C from a blood transfusion or a blood product in the UK before safety measures were in place, improved financial support has recently been announced.
Unsterile razors in barber’s shops
Barbers in South Asian countries may use the same razor for shaving or for cutting different customers’ hair without sterilising it in between use. This is another way hepatitis C can be passed on.
Piercings using unsterile equipment
Having an ear piercing, a body piercing, a tattoo or acupuncture with equipment that is not sterile could have exposed you to the virus.
Sharing toothbrushes and razors
Remember sharing a toothbrush or a shaving razor back home? If there’s a chance they were also used by someone with hepatitis C you may have been exposed to it.
Other ways the virus is passed on:
- From a mother with hepatitis C to her baby, before or during the birth
- Through unprotected sex (without a condom) with someone who has the virus
- By sharing equipment for injecting drugs, even if you only did this once or twice a long time ago
‘Non-A, non-B’ hepatitis
Hepatitis C was only discovered in 1989, so before then some people who have hepatitis C may have been given a diagnosis of non-A, non-B hepatitis. If you have been diagnosed with non-A, non-B hepatitis you should get tested for hepatitis C, if you haven’t already been.