Blood-Borne Viruses

Viruses, like other microscopic organisms, live in, on and around us all the time. When they (a) exist in sufficient quantities, (b) are able to spread from someone or something (like food or animals) and (c) enter your body, they can cause disease. When our bodies are under stress, for example during periods of intensive training for competition, we are more susceptible to illness caused by these tiny germs. Blood-borne viruses are those which are transmitted from one person's blood to another person's blood stream.


Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. The liver filters the blood and breaks down food and poisons in the body. Viral hepatitis (often simply called hepatitis) refers to a number of different viruses which affect the liver and can cause fever, vomiting, jaundice (where the eyes and skin go yellow) or sometimes permanent liver damage, even cancer. Sometimes people with hepatitis have no obvious symptoms but may still be able to infect others. The most common types of hepatitis are A, B & C and these are described below. Other forms of hepatitis (non-viral) can be caused by alcohol or drug use (including steroids).

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is highly infectious - about 100 times more infectious than HIV. In Australia, most hepatitis B infections occur in adolescents and young adults. It is transmitted via body fluids (blood, sexual fluids) from one person to another. Hepatitis B can be passed on during sex, through sharing injecting equipment or body piercing and tattooing with improperly cleaned or unsteril equipment. Sharing toothbrushes, razors, nail files, nail scissors or other personal equipment where small traces of blood may be present can also be risky. Symptoms of hepatitis B include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, pain in the abdomen and/or joints, fever and jaundice. Normally these symptoms disappear in a few weeks. Some people with hepatitis B show no symptoms at all. An effective vaccine is available and condoms help prevent STIs such as hepatitis B. There have been a number of reported cases of hepatitis B being spread through sporting activities. These were mainly due to poor infection control measures in the past when the risks of infection through blood contact were not widely known. An increasing number of sports are encouraging players, coaches, officials, trainers, and first-aiders to be vaccinated against hepatitis B.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus and can only be transmitted through blood to blood contact. It is considered to be about 70 times more infectious than HIV. Hepatitis C is the most common form of hepatitis in Australia and it most commonly transmitted through the sharing of injecting equipment. Hepatitis C can also be spread by using body piercing and tattooing equipment which has not been properly cleaned or sterilised. Professional tattoos and piercings are the safest. Sharing toothbrushes, razors, nail files, nail scissors or other personal equipment where small traces of blood may be present is also a risk. Sexual transmission of hepatitis C is unlikely. People with hepatitis C may initially show only mild, flu-like symptoms, or no symptoms at all. Symptoms may include dark urine, signs of jaundice, nausea and tiredness. No vaccine is available.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the blood-borne virus that can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV can be transmitted through sex without a condom sharing equipment used for injecting drugs, from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. Oral sex is considered a low risk for HIV transmission. Some years after HIV infection, a person's immune system can become so weak that it can no longer fight off infections, and this is when the person is said to have developed AIDS. Some of the common symptoms of HIV are also common to a number of other illnesses, and can include flu-like symptoms, swollen lymph nodes (or glands) and loss of appetite. Condoms help prevent sexual transmission of the virus. There is no vaccine available for HIV.


Testing for these viruses looks for the antibodies produced by our immune system. It can take up to 3 months for these antibodies to become detectable. Contact HepatitisWA for more information about testing.


Treatment is available for hepatitis B and C and for HIV. For many people, hepatitis C may be able to be cured through treatment. Fr further information regarding treatment, contact HepatitisWA on (08) 9328 8538 (Metro), or 1800 800 070 (Country).

Blood Rules, OK(2000) developed for the Australian National Council on AIDS, Hepatitis C and Related Diseases, by the Australian Institute for Primary Care and with the guidance of an Advisory Committee.