Hepatitis C and Hemodialysis: The most common form of treatment for end-stage renal disease (ESRD, or kidney failure) is hemodialysis. If your medical facility does not carefully follow precautions for infection control, it is possible to get hepatitis C during hemodialysis. Hemodialysis is a process that uses a machine to clean your blood.

In hemodialysis, a machine does the work of your kidneys to clean the blood. A typical hemodialysis process involves the following:

  1. Your blood travels through tubes from your body into the dialysis machine.
  2. While your blood is in the machine, it goes through a filter called a dialyzer, which removes waste and extra fluid.
  3. Once cleaned, your blood travels through tubes from the dialysis machine back into your body.

When you are doing dialysis, your doctor gives medicines by injection into your bloodstream. You may also have blood taken via tubes for any blood tests.

Hepatitis C in dialysis centers

The hepatitis C is a virus that spreads to others through the blood of an infected person.

Although getting hepatitis C in a dialysis center is not very common, unfortunately, reports of patients getting Hepatitis C infections during dialysis in India are common.

That is why doctors recommend regular testing for dialysis patients.

If you are starting hemodialysis, it is mandatory to test for hepatitis B and C virus before your first treatment. You can expect to be tested for hepatitis C about every 4-6 months for as long as you are doing hemodialysis in the same center.

If you are going to a new center, it is again mandatory to check for the hepatitis C virus before you start there.

During hemodialysis, needles are inserted into the fistula so your blood can flow into the dialysis machine. Sometimes, you may get other injections like iron or erythropoietin during dialysis or have blood tests done during your dialysis session.

Your chance of getting hepatitis C from hemodialysis is small because dialysis centers are required to follow strict safety rules to avoid any contaminations from happening.

But sometimes, some dialysis units do not follow precautions.

Any time a needle is used to take blood, there is a chance the blood (even a minimal amount) can get on a surface or an object where it is not supposed to be.

If a patient’s blood makes its way to an object or surface and if that surface or object is not cleaned or sterilized properly, then contamination can occur.

Hepatitis virus spreads through contaminated blood. When the contaminated blood gets to the equipment or supplies used for dialysis treatment, a person undergoing dialysis treatment through that equipment may get infected with hepatitis C.

If these safety rules are broken, hepatitis C can spread during hemodialysis through:

  • Contamination of medicines like heparin
  • Contamination of the dialysis machine
  • Contamination of needles
  • Contamination of gloves used by nurses or doctors to treat patients

Preventing hepatitis C in dialysis centers

Dialysis nurses or technicians who work in dialysis centers are required to take infection control training and are required to follow precautions.

Dialysis center staff members and technicians should follow the following safety recommendations and measures to prevent hepatitis C:

  • Use only one injection per patient.
  • Never use the same needle or syringe for multiple patients.
  • Never use the same intravenous (IV) solution (bags of fluid) for multiple patients.
  • Always disinfect the dialysis machine between the treatments.
  • Keep clean materials separate from materials that could be contaminated with blood.
  • Always put on new gloves when examining new patients.
  • Wash hands after touching anything that could be contaminated by blood.

Peritoneal dialysis

Peritoneal dialysis (PD) is a type of dialysis used to treat kidney failure. Unlike hemodialysis, which requires a machine to filter the blood outside of the body, peritoneal dialysis uses the lining of the abdominal cavity, called the peritoneum as a filter, and dialysate (a cleaning solution) to filter blood. Peritoneal dialysis is a very handy and comfortable dialysis process – which can be done at home. During this type of dialysis procedure, blood never comes out and therefore, there is a very low risk of getting hepatitis C infection.

Reporting a concern

If you ever feel concerned about the safety practices in your dialysis center, you should talk to a senior staff member or the doctor about it.

Choosing the right dialysis unit is very important to get a better treatment and to feel well whilst on dialysis.

If you see something lacking or not up to the mark, don’t hesitate to speak up. Your actions can protect you and others as well. People with Hepatitis C can continue to have dialysis on a separate machine dedicated only to positive patients.