The hepatitis C virus is a sexually transmitted disease

Hepatitis C.

Pathogen and transmission

Hepatitis C is inflammation of the liver caused by infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Since the pathogen is primarily transmitted through the blood of an infected person, there is a risk of infection especially when using syringes together, during medical interventions with insufficiently sterilized instruments, when getting tattoos and piercing with non-sterile instruments or in the event of injuries with the latter. Blood transfusions in countries where donor blood is not tested for HCV antibodies are also a possible source of infection.

Sexual transmission of the virus is very rare. However, there appears to be a significant risk of sexual transmission within certain groups, e.g. B. in men who have group sex with men, especially if they are co-infected with HIV. Transmission from mother to child during childbirth is possible but rare.

Clinical picture

In three quarters of those newly infected with the hepatitis C virus, the infection proceeds without symptoms. The remaining quarter develop symptoms six to nine weeks (a maximum of six months) after being infected. These can include loss of appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting. It is also possible that people have a fever and joint pain. Jaundice also occurs in 5 to 10% of infected people. After six months, the infection has healed without treatment in 20 to 30% of those infected. However, this does not protect you from hepatitis C and can therefore become infected again.

Often chronic, but curable

In 70 to 80% of infected people, the infection does not heal spontaneously within six months and is therefore chronic (the virus remains in the liver). Chronically infected people usually live on for years without symptoms. In about 5 to 30% of these cases, however, liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver tissue) develops after several decades. Those affected have an increased risk of developing liver cell cancer.

Hepatitis C can be treated with antiviral drugs. Over 90% of those treated can be cured in this way. But even they are not protected against re-infection with the virus.

Distribution and frequency

In Switzerland, around 0.5% of the population is infected with the hepatitis C virus, around 1% on average worldwide. The number of reports from people with acute hepatitis C has been stable in this country since 2006; around 50 new cases are reported each year. The proportion of men is consistently high and is around 70%. Young adults in the 20 to 39 age group are also severely affected (around 60 to 65% of cases). A majority of newly diagnosed infections are due to intravenous drug use.


There is no vaccination against hepatitis C. Protection against infection primarily consists in preventing other people's blood from entering your own body through skin injuries, wounds or after contact with the mucous membrane. In particular, syringes should not be exchanged and any practices that result in stitches or injuries with poorly or unsterilized material should be avoided.

Under certain circumstances, hepatitis C can also be transmitted through injurious sex, primarily through blood-mucosal contact. It is therefore important to consistently avoid any contact with blood, even during sexual intercourse.