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Is Hepatitis C Sexually Transmitted

Sexual transmission of Hep C

Can Hepatitis C be transmitted sexually? The answer is no, except where blood is involved

Is Hepatitis C Sexually Transmitted

The question of whether Hepatitis C is a sexually transmitted disease comes up quite regularly and is inevitably controversial. In this post, I will answer the question using the combination of the most recent scientific research and personal experience.

The short answer to the question “Is Hepatitis C a sexually transmitted disease?” is “No, Hepatitis C is not a sexually transmitted disease.”

Research shows that the chance of catching, or transmitting, Hepatitis C through vaginal sex is about 200,000 in one. In other words, if you were to have sexual intercourse 200,000 times there is one chance you might catch Hep C from an infected partner.

To put this in a real world context; I had Hepatitis C for the first 35 years of my marriage. My wife and I were sexually active all through those years and my wife did not catch Hep C from me. I have heard the same experience from many other couples.

To put this in perspective, according to my maths, you would need to have sex 20 times a day every day for more than 20 years to have one chance of catching Hepatitis C through vaginal sexual intercourse. Hepatitis C can only be transmitted through blood-to-blood contact.

However, in extremely rare cases, Hep C can be transmitted during sexual activity if there is blood leakage from both people engaged in the sexual act. The most likely scenario for this to occur is during vaginal sex where the vagina is not well lubricated. This may result in microscopic tears in the tissue of the vagina and the penis, which may enable blood to blood transmission.

The most common sexual act that provides for blood mingling is anal sex because there may be micro-tears in the soft tissue of the anus and in the skin of the penis. In this situation minute amounts of blood may carry the virus from the infected partner to the uninfected partner.

What is a Sexually Transmitted Disease

The definition of a sexually transmitted disease is A bacterial or viral infection transmitted from an infected person to an uninfected person through sexual contact. Examples of sexually transmitted viruses and bacteria are chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes, human papillomavirus infection, HIV/AIDS,  and syphilis.

Recent Studies of the Sexual Transmission of Hepatitis C


The information below is a summary of the most extensive study into the sexual transmission of Hepatitis C in heterosexual couples. If you wish to read the entire study please click on the link above.

The rate of hepatitis C virus (HCV) transmission by sexual activity remains controversial.

We conducted a cross-sectional study of HCV-positive subjects and their partners to estimate the risk for HCV infection among monogamous heterosexual couples.

A total of 500 anti–HCV-positive, HIV negative  subjects and their long-term heterosexual partners were studied. Couples were interviewed separately for lifetime risk factors for HCV infection, within-couple sexual practices, and sharing of personal grooming items.

Blood samples were tested for Hepatitis C RNA, and HCV genotype.

The majority of HCV-positive index subjects were non-Hispanic white, with an age range of 26 to 79 years and a range of 2 to 52 years of sexual activity with their partners.

Overall, HCV prevalence among partners was 4% . Viral isolates in three couples (0.6%) were highly related, consistent with transmission of virus within the couple.

Based on 8,377 person-years of follow-up, the maximum incidence rate of HCV transmission by sex was 0.07% per year or approximately one per 190,000 sexual contacts. No specific sexual practices were related to HCV positivity among couples.

Conclusion: The results of this study provide quantifiable risk information for counselling long-term monogamous heterosexual couples in which one partner has chronic HCV infection. In addition to the extremely low estimated risk for HCV infection in sexual partners, the lack of association with specific sexual practices provides unambiguous and reassuring counselling messages

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Greg Jefferys

Greg Jefferys


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