Man with ToothbrushRecently, people questioned recommendations that are meant to help people at a greater risk for Hepatitis C get tested, and get treated while still in the early stages.

To emphasize why encouraging people to find out if they have Hepatitis C is so important, here are some notes about Hepatitis C transmission:

Hepatitis C survives for a long time outside of the body, and can pass from object to object. In areas of high drug use, needle exchange programs significantly reduced HIV transmission—but not Hep C transmission. While HIV mostly infected the needle (and reused needles get porous fast), Hep C managed to infect things like the spoon, cotton balls and swabs, and other paraphernalia.

For regular people, that means that household objects can be a source of transmission. Toothbrushes, nail clippers (especially if used on hangnails), razors, tweezers, and other personal grooming items, as well as incidental items that can cause accidental cuts and scratches—kitchen knives, scissors. And to be on the safe side, utensils (I’ve heard some dentists saying people shouldn’t share anyway, because you might catch cavity-causing germs. Haven’t seen the study, though).

In hospitals, a Hep C outbreak can get large, fast. The big ones of recent years have all started with needle sharing and a hospital employee. The message right now, though, is the size: MRSA, pneumonia, and other diseases don’t spread as quickly (the MRSA outbreak in Seattle only affected dozen of people).

How do you stay safe? People who have a Hep C diagnosis have to maintain vigilance, and get comfortable with new, cautious habits.

Uninfected people can help protect themselves by keeping their immune systems strong. Not everyone who is exposed to Hepatitis C catches it. It takes a while for Hep C to take hold, which is why testing usually takes place 6 months after exposure.

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