[Question #2557] Risk of HCV from touching object

44 months ago

Hello dear Drs. Thank you so much for what you do, because it is a light of hope for so many anxious people like me.

My situation is the following: I was in a waiting room with someone I certainly know has hepatitis C and I went out immediately after him touching the door handle that he had just touched. I had a very small scratch from a few days ago and it was definitely not actively bleeding. It was just a few days old scratch. I don’t know if this person had any scratches, wounds on his hands. After touching the handle I saw no apparent blood on my hand but I could have missed small amounts. So next day I had fever and some flu like symptoms which totally scares me.

I know HIV can not transmit in this way so my questions are

1.     What is the risk of getting hepatitis C in this situation?  

2.     If there was any risk there should be significant, visible amount of blood, am I right?

3.     Should testing be considered?

p.s I read in the internet that a notable percentage of people don’t know how they got hepatitis C, thus this type of scratches, open wounds situations can be a way of transmission.

However I also read from official sites that fewer than 1 in 1,000 family members or close acquaintances becomes infected each year through common, nonsexual contact with hepatitis C-infected persons. I assume if small scratches were a mean of transmission this number would have been a lot higher.

I am very confused and anxious, please give me some clarifications. Thank you very much.


44 months ago
I understand that this is not directly sexual health question but your expertise and knowledge are very valuable and I would really appreciate you answers. Thank you. 
Edward W. Hook M.D.
Edward W. Hook M.D.
44 months ago
Welcome to our Forum and thank you for your confidence in our advice.  Like HIV hepatitis C is not transmitted by casual contact.  By casual contact I mean touching inanimate objects (in this case a door knob) touched by an HCV infected person, shaking hands or hugging, kissing, etc.  The main way the infection is transmitted is by injection of infected material deep into tissue or directly into the blood.  Hepatitis C is sexually transmitted by, from a biological perspective, very inefficiently (i.e. it is hard to transmit) and when it is transmitted sexually it, like HIV is most effectively transmitted by rectal intercourse. 

While it is theoretically possible that if a person had a fresh cut on their hand which was then quickly contaminated with blood from a person with hepatitis C, the infection MIGHT be transmitted, if it happens at all, this mode of transmission is extraordinarily rare.  I have never seen or heard of such a case.  Like most viruses, the hepatitis C virus becomes rapidly non-infectious on exposure to air and the environment and is not acquired by environmental exposure.  The vast majority of hepatiis C has been acquired through direct exposure to blood (i.e. by injection, infusion, or shared needles).

I certainly see no reason for concern about hepatitis C from the events that you describe and do not recommend testing in this situation.  I would not worry about this infection unless you are sharing needles with another person who might be infected or are in the health care profession and at risk for a fresh needle stick by a needle just used on a hepatitis C infected person. 

I hope these comments are helpful.  EWH
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44 months ago
Dear Dr. thank you very much for your response. One more clarification please, when you say:  
"While it is theoretically possible that if a person had a fresh cut on their hand which was then quickly contaminated with blood from a person with hepatitis C, the infection MIGHT be transmitted, if it happens at all, this mode of transmission is extraordinarily rare".  So even theoretically the cut must be fresh and there must be visible amount of blood to be able to transmit the virus, correct? 
My scratch was not fresh it was a few days old very small healed cut, and there was no visible blood on my fingers, after touching the handle. So I hope I did not have even theoretical risk. And the flu like symptoms probably don't mean much as it is unlikely to have symptoms 1 day after exposure, correct? I appreciate you answers and reassurances, because they mean so much for my peace of mind. Thank you again. 
Edward W. Hook M.D.
Edward W. Hook M.D.
44 months ago
Please understand that when I say "theoretically" it is also "theoretically" possible that you will be struck by lightning today.  You should not concern yourself about such things!  It is just not realistic or an appropriate thing to worry about. But yes, a cut which is no longer fresh and bleeding would not put you at risk for infection. 

Further, the timing of your symptoms is incompatible with an HCV infection acquired a day earlier.  EWH 
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44 months ago
Thank you very much Dr. Hook. The bottom line is I should forget this incident and move on with my life as there was no risk? My question may sound repetitive, however I need your reassurance as I was vey anxious. Thank you once again.  
44 months ago
Dear Doctor, I appreciate your response. You probably have not seen my last question. Just for a reassurance: I can move on with my life and forget this incident correct? It bothered me quite a bit. Thank you 
Edward W. Hook M.D.
Edward W. Hook M.D.
44 months ago
I have just seen your follow-up question.  sorry for the delay in responding.  The answer is yes, I would urge you to put your concerns aside and move forward without concern.  Put the incident you describe, and future similar incidents behind you. 

As you know, this thread has now received three responses and therefore will be closed later today.  Take care.  EWH
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