The risk of potential exposure to Hepatitis C through sex

In January 2018, NHS England announced it would aim to eliminate hepatitis C by 2025, 5 years ahead of the WHO target. Numbers of patients receiving new oral treatments for the virus are already increasing year on year which has reduced the number of deaths by 10% and halved the number of patients needing a liver transplant.

What is Hepatitis C?

  • Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus (BBV) and is the most common type of viral hepatitis in the UK with an estimated 215,000 people affected.
  • The risk of getting hepatitis C through sex is low and the virus is most commonly spread through drug equipment, however risk of sexually transmitting the infection may be higher if blood is present.
  • In the UK, most hepatitis C infections occur in people who inject drugs or have injected them in the past. It’s estimated 50% of people who inject drugs have the infection in the early stages which commonly doesn’t display symptoms.
  • If left untreated hepatitis C can cause serious damage to the liver and lead to liver cirrhosis and even liver cancer.

Sexual Transmission – are you at risk?

The Hepatitis Trust says “The risk of sexually transmitting hepatitis C depends on the type of sex you are having. Because hepatitis C is thought to be transmitted via blood-to-blood contact, only sexual activities that increase the potential for exposure to blood are considered risky.”

This includes:

  • Unprotected anal sex
  • Sharing sex toys that have been used anally
  • Unprotected fisting
  • Sex involving more than two people
  • Chemsex (using drugs during sex: commonly crystal meth, GHB/GBL). Sharing a straw to snort drugs while engaging in sexual activities increases the risk of transmitting HCV
  • Vaginal sex during menstruation
  • Having sex when infected with an STI that could lead to blood-to-blood contact

Find out more about sexual activities considered risky.

If you’re worried – get tested

Are your sexual activities exposing you to blood-to-blood contact? If you are worried that you may be at risk of hepatitis C, visit Spectrum sexual health services and get tested. Testing is fast, confidential and free. Most cases of hepatitis C are treated with a simple course of antiviral medicine.

Find out more about other risk factors for hepatitis C.

Our clinics also offer support for contraception, STIs, relationships, family planning and HIV. Find your nearest clinic here.