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Preventing Hepatitis C: is There a Vaccine?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Importance of preventive measures

Hepatitis C is a serious chronic disease. Without treatment, you can develop liver disease. Preventing hepatitis C is important. Treating and managing the infection are also important.

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Find out about hepatitis C vaccine efforts and what you can do to prevent contracting the disease.

Is there a hepatitis C vaccine?

Currently, no vaccine protects you against hepatitis C. But research is ongoing. A promising study is currently researching a possible vaccine for both hepatitis C and HIV.

However, there are vaccines for other hepatitis viruses, including hepatitis A and hepatitis B. If you have hepatitis C, your doctor may suggest that you get these vaccines. That’s because hepatitis A or B infection can lead to further complications when treating hepatitis C.

Preventing other forms of hepatitis is especially important if your liver has already been damaged.

Avoid infection

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Researchers are working to develop a vaccine. In the meantime, there are ways you can help protect yourself from contracting or transmitting the infection.

The best way to avoid hepatitis C is to avoid activities that put you in contact with the blood of someone who’s contracted the infection.

Hepatitis C is transmitted through contact with blood from someone who’s been diagnosed with hepatitis C. The most common methods of transmission include:

  • individuals sharing needles or other equipment used to prepare and inject drugs
  • healthcare workers getting a needlestick in a healthcare setting
  • mothers transmitting the virus during pregnancy

Through scientific advances and advancements in screening methods, less common ways you can contract or transmit the virus include:

  • having sex with someone who has contracted the virus
  • sharing personal items that have touched the blood of someone who has contracted the virus
  • getting a tattoo or body piercing at a business that’s not regulated
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The virus is not transmitted through breast milk, food, or water. It’s also not transmitted by casual contact with someone who has been diagnosed with hepatitis C, such as hugging, kissing, or sharing food or drinks.

With personal care, don’t share

Razors, toothbrushes, and other personal care items can be instruments for person-to-person transmission of the hepatitis C virus. Avoid using someone else’s items for personal hygiene.

If you have hepatitis C:

  • don’t donate blood or semen
  • keep any open wounds bandaged
  • tell your doctors and other healthcare providers

Don’t share needles

Using injectable drugs can lead to hepatitis C infection if you share needles, syringes, or other equipment with someone who has the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who inject drugs are most at risk of contracting hepatitis C.

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If you’ve ever shared a needle with someone else, even if it was just once a long time ago, you’re still at risk of hepatitis C. It’s important to get tested to determine if you need treatment. Talk to your doctor about testing for the virus. You can also read more about the hepatitis C blood test.

If you currently inject drugs, consider joining a treatment program. Talk to your doctor about available treatment options. They can help you find a treatment program that’s right for you.

If you continue to inject drugs, avoid sharing needles or other equipment.

Some states offer syringe services programs (SSPs). These programs are also referred to as:

  • needle exchange programs (NEPs)
  • syringe exchange programs (SEPs)
  • needle-syringe programs (NSPs)
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SSPs offer clean needles. Talk to your doctor or local health department about the availability of SSPs or other resource programs in your state.

Use caution with tattooing

Licensed businesses that offer tattooing or body piercing are generally thought to be safe from hepatitis C. But getting a tattoo, piercing, or even acupuncture can lead to hepatitis C infection if the equipment was not properly sterilized.

If you choose to get a tattoo or piercing, find out if the business has a valid permit or license. If you receive acupuncture, ask to see your practitioner’s acupuncture license.

Practice safer sex

Sexually transmitted hepatitis C is not common, but it’s possible. If you have sex with someone who has the virus, certain behaviors can increase your risk. These include:

  • practicing sex without a condom or other barrier method
  • having more than one sexual partner
  • having a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or HIV

Prevent or treat

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Currently, there’s no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. However, you can reduce your chances of contracting the virus through preventive measures.

If you have hepatitis C, it can be treated and managed.

Research has shown that new medications such as Harvoni and Viekira work to help your body create a sustained virologic response (SVR). If your doctor determines your body is in a state of SVR after treatment, you’re considered cured.

Talk to your doctor to find out if one of these treatments could be a good option for you.

Read more on: hepatitis


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