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.

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.

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.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/19/2016

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