Hepatitis C: Transmission of the Virus
How Hepatitis C Is Spread
Nowadays when people think about hepatitis C, their minds probably go straight to thinking it’s spread through intravenous drug use. But the virus can spread through any form of blood-to-blood contact. While sharing needles is one way you would have that contact, it’s certainly not the only way—especially when you go back and consider just how lax medical protocols were a few decades ago.
Case in point: me. I contracted hepatitis C in 1981 from a blood transfusion following a motorcycle accident. In the past, it was much more common for people to contract any number of pathogens through blood transfusions and organ donation. It wasn’t until around 1992 that strict screening regulations were established within the healthcare industry.
I often joke that I had my motorcycle accident about 10 years too soon. Obviously, if given the choice, I wouldn’t have had the accident at all, but it’s true: had adequate screening measures been in place in 1981, I never would have contracted the virus.
Transfusions aren’t the only thing to blame for the spread of hepatitis C, and more people are at risk for contracting the virus than you might think.
Medical professionals are at a high risk of blood-to-blood exposure. Handling syringes on a daily basis, these professionals are just one small misstep away from accidentally sticking themselves with a used needle.
I’ve worked as an X-ray technician for 26 years. I’m routinely starting IVs on patients and delivering injectable medication. So I’m very familiar with the medic side of the patient-medic relationship.
I even witnessed an orthopedic surgeon contract hepatitis C firsthand. He was in the operating room drilling on a patient, and in handing off the instrument, the surgeon cut himself. We knew the patient had hepatitis C, and following the incident, the surgeon’s blood also tested positive for the virus. For him, that was all it took. That’s a blood-to-blood exposure.
These accidents will always occur. I don’t think we can remove human error completely. But the healthcare industry has made great strides in the last decade. Precautionary equipment like retractable needles and other protocols that eliminate the need to recap needles have significantly decreased the chances of an accidental exposure. The whole situation has really changed now for healthcare professionals.
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