Is Hepatitis C Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical and Pharmacy Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

blood test hepatitis C std lab

What is hepatitis C (hep C)?

Hepatitis (hep C) is a form of viral hepatitis. Hepatitis C causes acute and chronic liver disease. Hepatitis C is transmitted when the virus in infected blood from one person infects another person. Hepatitis C disease is caused by a virus termed HCV (a single strand RNA virus) that infects liver cells. Hepatitis C was referred to in older scientific publications as non-A or non-B hepatitis.

Is hepatitis C contagious?

Hepatitis C is contagious. It is mainly transmitted via blood to blood transfer. This transmission can occur by

  • sharing needles,
  • acupuncture,
  • tattoo needles,
  • surgical or diagnostic instruments,
  • sexual contact, and
  • organ transplants.

Casual contact (including exposure to saliva and skin to skin such as with a handshake or) rarely, if ever, can transmit hepatitis C virus.

How long before I know I'm infected and have hepatitis C?

The incubation period (time from exposure to the virus to symptom development) for hep C is variable. The time period may vary from about 2 weeks to 6 months with 6 -10 weeks being the average time span. However, about 80% of those infected may not develop acute symptoms.

Symptoms of hepatitis C develop slowly and include

About 70% to 90% of infected people do not clear the virus and become chronic carriers. Tests for diagnosing hepatitis C virus include detecting antibodies to the virus and a PCR test that detects virus antigens.

Quick GuideHepatitis C (Hep C) Symptoms and Treatment

Hepatitis C (Hep C) Symptoms and Treatment

Hepatitis C Symptoms

Most people with hepatitis C or hep C have no symptoms when they contract the infection. Those that do have symptoms of hep C infection may experience

  • abdominal pain.
  • fatigue,
  • fever,
  • joint pains,
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea,
  • poor appetite, and
  • vomiting.

How is hepatitis C spread?

Hepatitis C is spread person-to-person usually by direct contact with another person's blood who is infected with hepatitis C virus. Individuals that share needles are at a high risk to become infected. Surgical and other instruments that are not properly decontaminated can also spread hepatitis C to others. Moreover, some patients that receive organ transplants from individuals that have the virus, but no symptoms, can transmit the disease to the organ transplant recipient.

How will I know when I am no longer contagious for hepatitis C?

Treatments are usually long-term (for example, 12-24 weeks ) and a person is not considered "cured" until 6 months have passed with no virus detected in their blood samples. Treatments are varied according to the individual's disease.

When should I seek medical care for hepatitis C?

If a person develops one or more of the following symptoms, they should seek medical care:

Let your doctor know if you shared needles with someone or you have had contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with hepatitis C.

If a person is known to have hepatitis C and develops severe nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and/or mental status changes (confusion or unresponsiveness, for example), they should be evaluated in an emergency department immediately.

Medically reviewed by Robert Cox, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Infectious Disease

REFERENCES:

Dhawan, MD, VK. et al. "Hepatitis C." UpToDate. Apr 30, 2015.

World Health Organization (WHO). Hepatitis C.
<http://www.who.int/csr/disease/hepatitis/whocdscsrlyo2003/en/index3.html>

Last Editorial Review: 9/19/2016

Reviewed on 9/19/2016
References
Medically reviewed by Robert Cox, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Infectious Disease

REFERENCES:

Dhawan, MD, VK. et al. "Hepatitis C." UpToDate. Apr 30, 2015.

World Health Organization (WHO). Hepatitis C.
<http://www.who.int/csr/disease/hepatitis/whocdscsrlyo2003/en/index3.html>

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