Causes of hepatitis C

Learn about the cause of hepatitis C and how it is spread.

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What causes hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus.

How is hepatitis C spread?

The hepatitis C virus is spread through contact with infected blood and bodily fluids, such as semen and vaginal fluid. You will only be infected if the virus enters your bloodstream.

In Canada, most people are infected by:

  • using or sharing drug paraphernalia contaminated with infected blood, including:
    • pipes
    • straws
    • spoons
    • needles
    • cookers
  • receiving body services that use unclean tools or work practices, such as:
    • tattooing
    • acupuncture
    • body piercing
  • sharing personal care items with an infected person, such as:
    • razors
    • scissors
    • nail clippers
    • toothbrushes

If you have hepatitis C, you can pass the virus to your baby during:

  • pregnancy
  • childbirth
  • breastfeeding if your nipples are cracked and bleeding, and your baby also has bleeding in or on the mouth
    • it can be hard to tell if a baby has bleeding in or on the mouth
    • cracked nipples may not be bleeding but may begin to during breastfeeding (this might not be noticeable right away)

You can also be infected if you receive contaminated:

  • blood
  • organs
  • blood products

Although rare, hepatitis C can also be spread through unprotected sex especially if it involves blood contact, such as:

  • contact with:
    • menstrual blood
    • open sores, cuts or wounds
    • semen or vaginal fluid if blood is present
  • through rough sex, including:
    • bondage and sexual satisfaction through pain
    • inserting a fist inside the vagina or anus (fisting)

Unprotected sex means having sex without using a condom or other barrier safely.

Hepatitis C is not spread through:

  • breast milk
  • food or water
  • casual contact, such as:
    • kissing
    • hugging
    • shaking hands
  • contact with someone who is sneezing or coughing
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