Is Hepatitis 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 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.

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What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a disease characterized by inflammation of the liver. "Hepatitis" is a general term that refers to any inflammation of the liver. There are many illnesses and conditions that cause inflammation of the liver. For the purpose of answering the question of whether or not hepatitis is contagious, these illnesses will be broken into two categories; infectious and noninfectious hepatitis.

Is hepatitis contagious?

Infectious causes of hepatitis usually are, but not always, contagious. For example, hepatitis caused by viruses usually is contagious although many types are transferred mainly from person to person by blood to blood transfer (individual sharing needles, acupuncture, sexual contact, and organ transplantation).

Some infectious parasites (such as Plasmodium spp, Schistosoma spp) cause hepatitis in individuals, but are not contagious person to person.

Most noninfectious causes of hepatitis are not contagious. Hepatitis caused by alcohol poisoning, medications, or toxins or poisons are not transmitted from person to person.

So, the answer to the question "is hepatitis contagious?" depends upon the type of hepatitis.

How will I know if I have hepatitis?

Symptoms of hepatitis vary somewhat depending on the type of hepatitis. Most infectious hepatitis that is contagious may have slowly developing symptoms like

In general, the incubation period from time of initial viral infection to development of symptoms ranges widely from about two weeks to six months.

Symptoms of hepatitis that develop from noncontagious causes (such as alcoholic hepatitis) may have very similar symptoms described above. Noncontagious hepatitis also may cause increased abdominal size and fluid in the abdomen. The time to develop symptoms may take months to years, but may develop quickly (days) in some toxin-induced hepatitis. A health-care professional can order tests to help determine the underlying cause of a person's hepatitis symptoms.

Serious or severe symptoms of hepatitis (for all types) may include

Quick GuideHepatitis C (Hep C) Symptoms and Treatment

Hepatitis C (Hep C) Symptoms and Treatment

Symptoms of Hepatitis C

Most people with hepatitis C don't have any symptoms when they acquire the hepatitis C virus infection, however, about 1/4th of those infected will have symptoms like

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

How is hepatitis spread?

Infectious causes of hepatitis that are contagious usually are spread person-to-person by direct contact with another person's blood that is infected. The classic example for infectious hepatitis spread is viral hepatitis C. Individuals that share needles are at high risk for developing viral hepatitis. In addition, individuals that have been exposed to surgical or other instruments (for example, tattoo needles) can spread the infection to other individuals; infectious hepatitis that is contagious also may be spread by sexual contact. Other types of viral hepatitis like hepatitis A are spread by fecal/oral contamination, and contaminated food, water, or items touched by infected individuals.

Noncontagious hepatitis due to specific infectious causes (such as from parasites) and chemical induced hepatitis (alcohol, medications) are not spread person-to-person. A health-care professional can help determine the underlying cause of a person's symptoms.

When will I know I'm cured of hepatitis?

Treatments for contagious hepatitis types vary according to the underlying cause and type of hepatitis. Most individuals are contagious about one to two weeks before symptoms appear. Depending upon the type of hepatitis, they can remain contagious for an extended length of time. For example, people with hepatitis A are contagious for at least two weeks after the onset of symptoms, but for hepatitis C and other types of hepatitis, individuals may not be cured of hepatitis and are contagious unless specific treatments occur.

In general, it takes about six months for the liver to recover from "cured" hepatitis A in most individuals. With other hepatitis types, patients may not be cured (or even know they have the disease) for many years.

With noncontagious hepatitis, again the "cure" is dependent upon treatment of the underlying cause. If the underlying cause is "cured," the liver function may or may not improve.

When should I contact doctor about hepatitis?

Fortunately, for some types of hepatitis (for example, hepatitis A), there are preventative treatments. Consequently, if a person suspects that they may have been recently exposed to any type of infectious hepatitis, they should contact their health-care professional quickly to prevent liver damage.

If a person has the following symptoms for days they should seek medical care urgently.

If a person known to have infectious hepatitis develops severe nausea and vomiting with abdominal pain and/or mental status changes, they should be evaluated in an Emergency Department.

REFERENCES:

Heptatitis A FAQs for the Public. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. May 31, 2015
<http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/afaq.htm>

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Viral Hepatitis.
<http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/>

Last Editorial Review: 8/6/2015

Reviewed on 8/6/2015
References
REFERENCES:

Heptatitis A FAQs for the Public. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. May 31, 2015
<http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/afaq.htm>

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Viral Hepatitis.
<http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/>

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