The Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is one of several known blood borne viruses that can cause severe illness and even death if not properly diagnosed and treated. But just how contagious is HCV and how likely are you to catch it?

Unsurprisingly, the answers to these simple questions are anything but simple. The fact is, it depends on what you do, who you do it with and whether or not you might be infected with other viruses. The good news is that HCV is not that easy to catch from straight sex alone. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in America do not recommend routine condom use in monogamous heterosexual couples where one partner is known to be HCV positive. The reason for this is that the Hepatitis C virus is principally transmitted through exposure to the blood of someone that is infected and not from exposure to other bodily fluids such as semen.

However, you should always take care to not share razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers or other items which be contaminated by blood, as these items can certainly be a transmission route for this viral infection. Similarly, sexual intercourse during menstruation should be avoided as this too, is an opportunity to be exposed to blood and thus risk catching this virus if it is present.

There has been further research which also implicates tattooing needles as a possible means for Hepatitis C transmission, particularly where the equipment being used has not been properly sterilised as can be the case in some of the less health conscious studios both here and abroad.

Hepatitis C is also on the rise amongst the gay community and in particular amongst those who practice “chemsex”. Using illicit drugs before or during sex can lower inhibitions, impair judgment, and encourage riskier sexual practices. Clearly if the drugs are injected then this is a prime way to pass on or contract this virus, but there is also some evidence that even sharing the straws used to inhale certain drugs can also lead to infection. Some sexual practices are riskier than others and whilst unprotected anal sex is known to be high risk, so is fisting, where one partner inserts his hand into the vagina or rectum of their partner. The stretching caused by this practice an cause lacerations, tears or perforation of the delicate tissues through which any number of viruses and bacteria can enter the blood stream.

As with all Sexually Transmitted Infections, Hepatitis C is easy to diagnose. Whether you should get tested is of course your choice but as Hepatitis C can lead to liver failure and death if not diagnosed and treated, a quick and easy test seems makes sense. It is, of course, always Better2Know.

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