Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are complicated diseases. Women living with HBV or HCV have issues that differ from men’s.

Women Have Unique Problems, even with Viral Hepatitis
Women Have Unique Problems, even with Viral Hepatitis

On a good note, women are more likely to clear HCV than men are. And there is a CURE now for hepatitis C, plus EXCELLENT TREATMENTS (and a vaccine!) for hepatitis B.

If you are pregnant and positive for HCV or HBV, there is a chance of passing it on to your unborn child (“vertical transmission”). Talk to your health services provider about how to best protect your unborn child from hepatitis B or hepatitis C. There are specific steps to take for hepatitis B, in particular, both before and immediately following birth. It may take several months before you will know for sure if your baby actually has viral hepatitis.  If your child does contract hepatitis B or hepatitis C, they will be eligible for treatment as soon as they are old enough to handle it. Treatment regimens for children are improving rapidly.

Nursing (breast-feeding) is not a risk factor for hepatitis B or hepatitis C. However, temporarily avoid nursing if nipples are cracked or bleeding.

Transfusions during Childbirth: Many women were given transfusions during or just after (“top-up”) childbirth from the 1950s through 1990, when blood and blood products started getting routinely tested for hepatitis C by Canada’s blood banks (hepatitis B testing started sooner). These women may have forgotten the procedure, and many simply were never informed about something that happened while they were under anesthesia. It can take many decades for viral hepatitis to show up – and by then it is usually in an advanced stage. Or it may be misdiagnosed as some other chronic condition. If in any doubt, we recommend that all women born between 1945 and 1975 get a once-only test for hepatitis C.

If you are Rh-negative and had a RhoGAM shot (given following childbirth or miscarriage) before 1993, there is a very slight chance you were infected with hepatitis C through the shot. Even if you got the shot many decades ago, and have no symptoms, you should consider getting tested for hepatitis C.

All women should know the basics about how transmission of hepatitis B and hepatitis C between sexual partners can be prevented

In general, if a person has hepatitis B, which is easily transmitted sexually through semen, they should always use condoms (either male or female) unless they know for sure that their partner is protected from hepatitis B by vaccination.

Sexual transmission of hepatitis C, which is transmitted by blood-to-blood contact, is quite rare among heterosexual couples. There is no vaccination for hepatitis C, so condoms (either male or female) are the recommended course if you are concerned about transmission. Hepatitis C is known to be transmitted sexually when tiny (often invisible) amounts of blood are transmitted from one partner to another through sores or bruises in fragile skin or mucous membranes, such as in rough or anal sex or during menstruation. Sex with multiple partners, or between partners with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV, puts partners in greater risk of hepatitis C transmission.

Finally, know that there is a time-gap of several weeks between exposure to hepatitis B or hepatitis C, and the exposure showing up as positive on a test. Ask your health services provider to confirm how long this period is for any HBV or HCV test. When in doubt, use protection.