How the Hepatitis C Virus is Transmitted
HCV is transmitted primarily via exposure to infected blood or blood products. Any HCV carrier can potentially transmit the infection (World Health Organization 2012). The most common mode of transmission is sharing contaminated needles during intravenous (IV) drug use (Williams 2011). Having had a blood transfusion before 1992 is a known risk factor as well. Other possible risk factors include body piercing, tattooing, and exposure to contaminated items such as toothbrushes, razor blades, or nail clippers (CDC 2012a; Cavalheiro 2007). While sexual transmission of HCV is possible, rates are low (Cavalheiro 2007; Vandelli 2004; Fierer 2008; Schmidt 2011).
Approximately 4% of infants born to HCV-infected mothers acquire the infection during childbirth. Transmission risk increases 2- to 3-fold if the HCV infected mother also has human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Breastfeeding does not increase the risk of transmission (CDC 2011).