Summer Health Scare: Hepatitis C Transmission

August 4, 2010

If you’ve picked up a women’s magazine this summer (like in your local waiting room) you may have seen an article purporting that new research found that Hepatitis C transmission can occur in your local hot tub–it advises that, given the high rate of 1 in 6 people having Hepatitis C, transmission is likely to occur in the warm virus friendly water of a hot tub, and that one should choose a hot tub that is well tended (kept clean) and not crowded, if you dare go at all.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a nasty urban legend about Hepatitis C transmission that has made it into a mainstream magazine. First, only about 2% of the population has chronic Hepatitis C (Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B have higher rates, according to the CDC, and overall Hepatitis C transmission rates have been dropping since 1990). Second, Hepatitis C transmission only occurs with blood to blood contact, so you aren’t at risk of catching it from your local spa.

However, it is good advice not to get in a hot tub (or pool) if you have an open wound, whether or not you have Hepatitis C. Transmission of Hepatitis C and other diseases (like Staph/MRSA), is possible when you go into a crowded, germ-y place like the local rec-center with a wound (especially if you’re swimming, which will soften and possibly open any scabs, or if it’s on your hands or feet which come into contact with many more people and surfaces).

As far as other Hepatitis C transmission legends, like getting it from your local nail salon, the best thing to do is to keep an eye out for safe practices: do they clean their instruments after each customer? Do they throw away one use items? You may remember the Hepatitis C outbreak that made the news a couple of months ago–this advice is something to keep in mind not just when you’re out exercising or grooming, but when you’re at a hospital or health care center, as a number were found to not keep proper practices!

Just a reminder: it usually takes 6 months for the Hepatitis C virus to show up on a test or for Hep C symptoms to show up, and many people with strong immune systems will defeat the virus without ever knowing they had it–however, don’t count on this! Always be mindful of safe health practices: use condoms, be careful of open wounds (even the smallest tear), and have frank conversations with any sexual partners.

And as a final note, if your Hep C treatment involves an intense drug regimen, be careful about soaking in the hot tub. The heat may have a negative affect on your health, causing such things as light headed-ness or dehydration. Consider strengthening your immune system with supplements, and keeping it strong by watching the aspects of your health you have some control over: stress, eating (and nutrition in general), exercise, etc.


Mike October 5, 2012 at 6:59 am

Thank you for putting to bed some of the misinformation about Hepatitis C out there. Betty, I always go by the fact that Hep C is transferred by “blood on blood contact”. I agree with Emma that you should talk to you doctor. That way both of you will feel more comfortable! You can find a little more info here.

Emma Spera February 25, 2011 at 10:18 am

Although it’s good to be careful, getting close is ok. Talk to a doctor together to help you both feel comfortable and be on the same page. Always use condoms, etc., and don’t share anything that may have come into contact with his blood (gums can bleed, hence don’t share toothbrushes, nicks happen, so don’t share razor blades, etc.).

If you do become sexually active with him, make sure to get STD testing regularly, and continue to do so for up to a year after you stop; sometimes Hep C can take a while to show up on tests. Make sure to do everything you can to keep yourself strong and healthy: many people’s immune system’s can fight Hep C without them getting infected, but like I said in the article, don’t count on this, continue to practice safe sex and general caution.

Hope that helps!

Betty February 24, 2011 at 12:51 pm

I am recently introduced to a man who found out he has hep C. Although I like him, I am afraid to get close or to kiss him. He thinks it was gotten by surgical instruments. He was also in prison several years. Any advice?

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