How Long Is the Incubation Period for Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C (HCV) is a virus that causes an infection of the liver. It's transmitted through contact with infected blood. Many people with HCV infections, whether they are acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term), experience mild or no symptoms.

It can take weeks to months between being exposed to the virus to experiencing any symptoms. This period is referred to as the incubation period. The incubation period for HCV is two to 12 weeks.

Read on to learn more about the HCV incubation period, when tests can detect the virus, and what you can expect with treatment if you test positive.

Doctor gives female patient a liver exam for hepatitis c

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How Long Is the Hepatitis C Incubation Period?

On average, it can take between two weeks and 12 weeks from the time you are exposed to HCV to experience symptoms. However, not everyone with HCV will experience symptoms.

Will You Test Positive for HCV During the Incubation Period?

Not always. If you are newly infected, it's possible that a test may not detect an infection right away. On average, it may take your body eight weeks to 11 weeks to produce enough antibodies to be detected on an HCV test.

That said, there's also a wider range of time—between two weeks and six months—when it's possible that the test could pick up enough antibodies. This varies from person to person.

Some people may not produce enough antibodies to be detected on a typical HCV test due to a lowered immune response. In those cases, it may be necessary to have other types of tests done.

Are You Contagious During the Incubation Period?

Yes. People with an acute HCV infection may be contagious a week or more before any symptoms appear. Those with a chronic HCV infection are considered to be contagious throughout the time they are infected.

Ways HCV Is Transmitted

HCV is passed through contact with infected blood. The ways it can be transmitted include:

  • Sharing used needles, often involved in injectable drug use
  • From a pregnant person with HCV to their baby
  • Using non-sterile tattoo equipment
  • Unintentional needle sticks
  • Using shared personal items, such as toothbrushes and razors
  • Undergoing invasive medical procedures or other injections
  • Having sex with a person who has HCV (not as common)

What to Expect

People with acute HCV infections may experience symptoms, however, many people will have very mild symptoms or none at all. About half of the people who become infected with HCV develop chronic infections. People with chronic HCV infections often have no symptoms or vague symptoms that can include depression and fatigue.

For those at risk for HCV or are experiencing symptoms, getting tested for the virus is key. Healthcare providers can also advise you on prevention strategies.

Once diagnosed, HCV infections can be treated by antiviral medications and cured in about eight weeks to 12 weeks. However, more prolonged treatment (up to 24 weeks) is possible for some people.

Starting Hepatitis C Treatment

If you are diagnosed with HCV, several antiviral medications can be prescribed for treatment. The newest medications available are in pill form. Current medications are successful at treating and curing over 90% of HCV infections.

Many people have mild or no side effects from the medication. Some people report:

A significant drop in your HCV viral load (how much of the virus is in your body) may occur within the first two weeks of treatment. After four weeks of treatment, undetectable viral loads are possible, though it may be longer for others.

A healthcare provider will use blood tests and check-in to determine how you are tolerating the treatment periodically throughout and afterward.

Summary

Hepatitis C (HCV) is a virus transmitted through contact with infected blood that causes liver infection. The virus' incubation period is between two weeks and 12 weeks after exposure. Though some people may experience symptoms, most people have none. You may be able to transmit the virus for a week or more before any symptoms appear.

An HCV test may not be able to detect new infections. It takes eight weeks to 11 weeks after infection for a test to have accurate results. If you do have a positive diagnosis, the majority of infections can be treated and cured. Oral antiviral medications are typically prescribed and treatment lasts for about eight weeks to 12 weeks.

A Word From Verywell

Many hepatitis C infections are asymptomatic. That's why it's critical to get tested if you believe you may have been exposed or have certain risk factors for infection. Talking through those risk factors with a healthcare provider can help you determine if getting tested for HCV is right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take for hepatitis C to show up after exposure?

    It may take between two to 12 weeks for symptoms to appear. However, not everyone who has a hepatitis C infection will have symptoms. Tests may not be able to accurately identify a new infection. It can take the body eight weeks to 11 weeks to produce enough antibodies to accurately detect an infection.

  • What are the early warning signs of hepatitis C?

    A person with an acute hepatitis C infection may have mild or no symptoms. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, fever, fatigue, jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin), dark urine, and pale-colored stool. A person with a chronic (long-term) hepatitis C infection may have no symptoms.

  • Is hepatitis C contagious?

    HCV is contagious. It's transmitted through contact with infected blood. Most infections occur when people who use injectable drugs share needles. Many people don't know they have an HCV infection because about 80% of those infected don't experience symptoms.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis C questions and answers for health professionals.

  2. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Hepatitis C.

  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Hepatitis C basic information.

  4. United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Hepatitis C medications: an overview for patients.

  5. MedlinePlus. Hepatitis C.

  6. World Health Organization. Hepatitis C.