Hepatitis C virus often found in semen


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Hepatitis C virus often found in semen

Researchers continue to investigate the biological mechanisms which could explain the ongoing epidemic of sexually transmitted hepatitis C in HIV-positive gay men.

Some studies have suggested that sexual transmission is mostly linked to sexual practices that involve some contact with blood (including tiny traces of blood you don’t notice). This makes sense as it is well known that hepatitis C is present in infectious quantities in blood. These sexual practices may include anal sex (especially when it goes on for a long time) as well as fisting and using sex toys.

Until now, it’s generally been thought that while hepatitis C may be present in semen, it’s usually at a low level that isn’t infectious. A new study questions that belief.

Researchers took semen and blood samples from 33 gay men who had both HIV and hepatitis C. They found that one third of the men had detectable hepatitis C in their semen and that it was present in levels that were plausibly high enough to transmit the virus.

When individuals had high levels of hepatitis C in their blood (for example, soon after infection) they tended to have high levels in their semen. But this was not always the case – some men who had low levels of hepatitis C in their blood had high levels in their semen.

The results suggest that hepatitis C can be passed on during anal sex even when there has been no bleeding. They suggest that condoms can play an important role in preventing the transmission of hepatitis C.

There’s more information on this issue in NAM’s illustrated leaflet ‘How hepatitis C is passed on during sex’.

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