A recent study by researchers from the Yale Schools of Medicine and Public Health revealed that the hepatitis C virus (HCV) can remain infectious for up to 6 weeks on surfaces at room temperature—resulting in a much longer period for potential transmission than was previously appreciated. Prior to this study, scientists believed that HCV could survive for up to four (4) days on surfaces outside of the body.
These findings have implications for the safety of patients and workers in healthcare settings as well as for reducing viral hepatitis transmission associated with drug use—both of which are priority areas outlined in the national Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis.
“Our findings clearly demonstrate that strict infection control practices and universal precautions are needed in the clinical setting to avoid contact with infectious agents such as HCV that can survive on surfaces,” noted study co-author Professor Robert Heimer of the Yale School of Public Health in a release announcing the study findings. “The implications go beyond the clinic to the risk environment of people who use syringes outside of medical care settings. Unsafe practices, such as sharing of syringes by people who inject drugs or careless handling of human blood during home delivery of intravenous medications, can lead to HCV transmission.”
Implications for Preventing Healthcare-Associated HCV Transmission
The study, funded by the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA), was designed to evaluate the risk of HCV transmission after infectious material dried on environmental surfaces—as might occur in an improperly cleaned blood spill. The investigators found that HCV remained potentially infectious for prolonged periods of time—in some cases as long as six (6) weeks.