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Blood Borne Viruses (BBV's) and other viruses

Useful information relating to the prevention and spread of BBV's.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is an inflammation of the liver which can be caused by excessive use of alcohol , viral infection or the side effects of other drugs, amongst other things.

Hepatitis A can be vaccinated against and will prevent transmission for up to 10 years. It is common in places where there is poor,

· Food hygiene

· Personal Hygiene

· Water supplies

· Sewage disposal

How is Hep A passed on?

Hep A is transmitted in the bowel movements of an infected person, which is why it is so important to wash hands after using the toilet. It passed on by eating /drinking contaminated food or water.

Hepatitis B

Is a virus that is carried in the blood and is spread via blood to blood contact from even the tiniest amount (say from a cut or a scratch), or in the case of injecting drug use via shared equipment. Hep B can live outside of the body for at least a week.

Although Hep B is referred to as a BBV it can be passed on via other bodily fluids such as saliva, semen and vaginal fluids, particularly if these have been contaminated with blood.

Hep B can be passed on by having penetrative sex without a condom with an infected person; oral sex can also transmit the virus.

Hep B can be passed on from mother to baby during delivery when the baby is exposed to the mother's blood. Vaccination of the baby at birth prevents the majority of infections.

Hepatitis C

Hep C is a blood borne virus (carried in the blood) which affects the cells of your liver causing damage. Over many years this can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.

Hep C is carried in the blood and is spread via blood to blood contact from even the tiniest amount (too small to be seen by the naked eye), and can live outside of the body for up to two weeks.

People react differently to the virus and it can take years before a person realises he or she has the virus.

Hep C can be treated and has been cleared from the blood as a result. It is important that treatment is sought as soon as possible after a positive Hep C test. Which means tests for the virus post exposure also need to acted upon quickly.

Anyone can get Hep C but those who inject drugs are considered to be high risk in terms of transmission. It is vital that injecting drug users have access to clean injecting equipment and practice safe injecting techniques. See our Injecting drug use page for further information.

Sharing snorting equipment is considered to be medium to unknown risk of contamination.

Sexual Intercourse is considered to be low risk of transmission as is blood to blood transmission. This risk is raised if a woman has intercourse during her period or a person engages in anal or rough sex.

Mother to baby transmission is considered to be medium risk.

The local GUM Clinic has detailed information on the viruses and the treatment of viruses.

HIV - Human Immunodeficiency Virus

HIV infects and gradually destroys an infected person's immune system reducing his or her protection against infections.

HIV is not passed on easily from one person to another, especially compared to other viruses. That's because HIV is present in body fluids. So for HIV to be passed on the body fluids of an infected person must first get into the body of an uninfected person and then into his or her bloodstream.

Main sources of infection

The body fluids that contain enough HIV to infect someone are:

  • Seminal fluid
  • Vaginal fluid
  • Breast milk
  • Blood
  • The mucous found in the rectum
  • Pre-cum (the fluid that the penis produces for lubrication before ejaculation)

Other bodily fluids like saliva (spit), sweat or urine do not contain enough of the virus to infect another person.

You cannot get infected with HIV through normal social contact.

AIDS - is short for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

AIDS is not a single disease or condition. Instead, it is a term that describes the point when a person's immune system can no longer cope because of the damage caused by HIV and they start to get one or more specific illnesses.

People do not actually die from AIDS; they die from the cancers, pneumonia or other conditions that may take hold when their immune system has been weakened by HIV.

The term AIDS is now very rarely used. It is more usual to talk of late-stage or advanced HIV infection.