Anonymous on August 8, 2011

My partner has hepatitis C. Can I catch hepatitis C through unprotected sex with her?

I'm a 36-year-old male from the UK. I have a new partner who is 33 and was diagnosed with hepatitis C several years ago. I have two questions: 1. What are the chances of me contracting hepatitis C through unprotected sex with her? 2. My partner has been prescribed the Depo-Provera injection for contraception by her doctor. I was under the impression that Depo-Provera should not be used by people with possible liver problems, i.e. people with HCV. Is she safe to continue using Depo-Provera? Thanks.

answered by Daniel Perlman, MD, MBA on August 8, 2011

Your questions indicate care and concern for both you and your partner...that’s always a good starting point to ensure sexual health and emotional well-being in a relationship. I encourage you and your partner to speak with her and/or your doctor for answers to your specific questions. That said, I’m happy to offer you some thoughts on your situation...

To answer your first question, yes, it is possible to get hepatitis C through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. However, the risk is low. Hepatitis C is most commonly spread when blood from an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected (e.g., blood transfusions, or sharing needles to inject drugs).

There are various stages of hepatitis C...each with a different risk of sexual transmission. I encourage you to talk with your doctor about your specific risk depending on the stage of hepatitis C your partner has. In the meantime and going forward, I encourage you to use a latex condom every time you have vaginal or anal sex, and use a condom or dental dam if you have oral sex. It’s also a good step to avoid sharing toothbrushes or razorblades that may have blood on them.

Talk to your doctor about your risk for HCV and about getting tested. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) haven’t made a specific recommendation about the frequency of testing for hepatitis how often to get tested is a personal decision. However, annual testing is a good rule of thumb and more frequent testing may also be appropriate, depending on whether any hepatitis C risk factors apply to you.

There’s no cure or vaccine for hepatitis C, but antiviral medications can help mitigate the effects of chronic (long-term) hepatitis C infection. So the earlier hepatitis C is diagnosed, the more successfully it can be treated and managed. Check out our Expert Guide to Hepatitis C for more information about risks, testing and treatment.

Regarding Depo-Provera, you’re on the right track. According to the FDA, Depo-Provera is a highly effective form of birth control...but it shouldn’t be used as a long-term birth control method (more than two years). And Depo-Provera is clearly not recommended for people with liver disease. I encourage your partner to talk with her doctor about her hepatitis C when she discusses birth control options.

Thank you for your questions that I’m sure other readers will find useful, too. I wish you and your partner the best of health.

Related info:

Daniel Perlman, MD, MBA

Dr. Perlman is a Colorado-based infectious disease specialist (including HIV and other STDs) in private practice at Greater Denver Infectious Diseases. Additionally, he is Assistant Clinical Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Dr. Perlman was educated at theUniversity of Maryland School of Medicine, and completed his residency in internal medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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