Is Hepatitis Contagious?

There are three major types of hepatitis in the U.S. -- A, B, and C. Each one affects your liver, an organ in your belly that's about the size of a football.

They're all contagious, but you can take steps to protect yourself.

How Does Hepatitis A Spread?

The main way you get sick is when you eat or drink something that has the hep A virus in it. A lot of times this happens in a restaurant. If an infected worker there doesn't wash his hands well after using the bathroom, and then touches food, he could pass the disease to you.

Food or drinks you buy at the supermarket can sometimes cause the disease, too. The ones most likely to get contaminated are:

You could catch or spread it if you're taking care of a baby and you don't wash your hands after changing his diaper. This can happen, for example, at a day care center.

Another way you can get hep A is when you have sex with someone who has it.

How Does Hepatitis B Spread?

The virus that causes it lives in blood, semen, and some other fluids in your body. You usually catch it by having sex with someone who's infected.

You can also get it by using the same razor or toothbrush as someone who has hepatitis B. Sharing needles and syringes to inject illegal drugs can also give you the disease.

Another way to get sick is if you touch the open sores of somebody who's infected. And if you have the disease when you're pregnant you can pass it to your baby.

How Does Hepatitis C Spread?

You catch it when blood from someone who's infected gets in your body. This happens if you share needles to take illegal drugs.

It's less common, but you can also get sick if you:

  • Share a razor or toothbrush with someone who's infected
  • Have sex with somebody who has hepatitis C

It's rare, but if you're pregnant and have the disease, it's possible to pass it to your newborn.

There are some myths out there about how you get hepatitis C, so let's set the record straight. It's not spread by food and water (like hep A). And you can’t spread it by doing any of these things:

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If I've got Hepatitis, How Can I Avoid Giving It to Someone Else?

For hepatitis A, one of the best things you can do is wash your hands a lot. That will keep the virus out of food and drinks.

If you have hepatitis B and C, you need to find ways to keep others from making contact with your blood. Follow these tips:

  • Cover your cuts or blisters.
  • Carefully throw away used bandages, tissues, tampons, and sanitary napkins.
  • Don't share your razor, nail clippers, or toothbrush.
  • If your blood gets on objects, clean them with household bleach and water.
  • Don't breastfeed if your nipples are cracked or bleeding.
  • Don't donate blood, organs, or sperm.
  • If you inject drugs, don't share needles or other equipment.

Is There a Vaccine to Protect Me From Hepatitis?

There are vaccines that prevent hepatitis A and B. So far there isn't one for hepatitis C, but researchers are working on it.

The CDC recommends that all children get hepatitis A and B vaccines. Adults should get vaccinated if they travel to a country where there are outbreaks or if they're at high risk for the disease.

How Long Before I Have Symptoms?

Hepatitis A. The symptoms usually show up 2 to 6 weeks after the virus entered your body. They usually last for less than 2 months, though sometimes you can be sick for as long as 6 months.

Some warning signs that you may have the disease are:

Some people get the disease but don't have any symptoms, though.

Hepatitis B. The symptoms are the same as hepatitis A, and you usually get them 3 months after you're infected. They could show up, though, anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months later.

Sometimes the symptoms are mild and last just a few weeks. For some people, the hep B virus stays in the body and leads to long-term liver problems.

Hepatitis C. The early symptoms are the same as hepatitis A and B, and they usually happen 6 to 7 weeks after the virus gets in your body. But you could notice them anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months later.

For about 25% of people who get hep C, the virus goes away on its own without treatment. In other cases, it sticks around for years. When that happens, your liver might get damaged.

Remember, it's possible to spread all the types of hepatitis even if you don't show any signs of being sick.

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How Long Can a Hepatitis Virus Live on Surfaces?

The hepatitis A virus is strong and can survive outside the body for months. It can even make it through freezing temperatures. But you may be able to kill it by boiling or cooking foods or liquids for at least a minute.

Hepatitis B sticks around on things like tables, razor blades, and blood stains for about a week.

Hepatitis C remains on surfaces at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.

When Should I See a Doctor?

Since you might not have any symptoms after being infected, don't wait until you feel sick. Contact your doctor if you think you've been in any of the situations that could lead to hepatitis. For instance, call if you:

  • Ate in a restaurant where there was an outbreak of hepatitis A
  • Had sex with someone who has hepatitis
  • Share needles when injecting illegal drugs
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on May 27, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American Liver Foundation: "HepC123."

CDC: "Hepatitis A FAQs for the Public," "Hepatitis B FAQs for the Public," "Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public," "Hepatitis D Information for the Public," "Hepatitis E Information for the Public."

KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation: "Infections: Hepatitis."

World Health Organization: "Hepatitis B."

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