How do viruses spread through blood?

Ways of transmission

One of the most well known viruses is transmitted through blood: HIV. When you have unsafe sexual contact, HIV or other blood-borne viruses can be transmitted through blood, semen or vaginal fluid. But there are other ways for these viruses to spread.

Professor Hans Zaaijer of the Dutch Blood Bank tells us that viruses like HIV can also be transmitted during a blood transfusion or when you are injected with the same needle that was used on someone who is infected. Finally, and very sadly, you can get a blood-borne virus as a baby when your mother is or becomes infected during pregnancy.

Which viruses are transmitted through blood?

The three most important viruses transmitted through blood are HIV and Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. You have probably heard about HIV. It is an, as of yet, incurable autoimmune disease, but it can be treated and controlled. HIV attacks the body’s own protection systems. When left uncontrolled, HIV leads to AIDS. AIDS slowly, but steadily, breaks down your body’s defences more and more, making you unable to recover from infections or cancers, eventually resulting in death.

The other blood-borne viruses Hepatitis B and C are also bad news. They both target your liver and can make you very sick. Worse, untreated Hepatitis C is one of the main causes of liver cancer. The tricky thing with Hepatitis B and C is that after infection, it can take weeks or sometimes years, even decades before you get any symptoms. But during that time the virus has already started its nasty work.

Protect yourself!

The most important way to protect yourself against blood-borne diseases is to always have safe sex. Wearing a condom is the single best choice to protect yourself and your partner.

Making sure that blood for blood transfusions is tested for viruses and that injection needles are sterilized and only used once, are other ways we try to prevent blood-borne diseases from spreading.

Vaccination and treatment

As of now, there is no vaccine against HIV or Hepatitis C. Since there is no vaccine, HIV can only be prevented by having safe sex and careful behavior. If you are infected with HIV, it can’t be cured, only controlled. Medication can suppress HIV and keep it from developing into AIDS. But medication is expensive and you can’t ever stop taking it, or it will return.

For Hepatitis B there is a vaccine. It needs to be administered several times to protect you from Hepatitis B for the rest of your life. There is no vaccine against Hepatitis C, but there is medication to cure you once you are infected.