Preventing Hep C Transmission
For more information about anything in this factsheet, phone
the Hepatitis Infoline on 1800 803 990 or go to
Hepatitis C (also called hep C) is Australia’s most frequently reported notifiable infectious
disease and is caused by the hep C virus (HCV). Evidence shows that it has been spreading
within Australia at least since the early 1970s although it has possibly been present for decades
prior to this.
Around 5,400 new hep C infections are estimated to be occurring annually (2013 statistics).
Hep C transmission
HCV is a blood borne virus (BBV). Transmission is possible when HCV-infected blood from one
person enters the bloodstream of another person.
In Australia, around 90% of new cases are estimated to occur as a result of blood-to-blood
contact through sharing or reusing any equipment used to inject illicit drugs.
Other cases can occur from unsterile tattooing and unsterile body piercing, and vertical
transmission (from mothers to their babies, during pregnancy and/or birth).
Around 5% of all cases in Australia have occurred through HCV contaminated blood transfusion
and blood products. These cases occurred before screening tests were introduced in 1990.
Some people in Australia contracted hep C through unsterile medical injections and other
medical procedures in their countries of origin.
Legal and political issues
Blood-to-blood contact while injecting drugs is the main transmission risk for hep C in Australia.
Because of its illicit nature, injecting drug users are often stigmatised and discriminated against.
This remains a major challenge for effective hep C prevention.
Drug user community organisations play a key role in hep C prevention and education, as well as
in representing the interests of drug users.
The hep C incidence (number of new cases each year) remains unacceptably high, even with
current hep C prevention and education initiatives such as Needle and Syringe Programs
Ultimately, this should cause consideration of additional harm reduction initiatives such as heroin
prescription to registered users and medically supervised injection rooms.