How Long Can Hepatitis Viruses Live Outside the Body?

The length of survival depends on the type

Doctor Taking Blood
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Viruses, tiny microorganisms which cause illnesses, are generally more contagious based on how long they can survive outside of a human body (the longer they can live outside of a host, the more contagious). The various strains of hepatitis are among the most common infectious diseases. However, because each type of viral hepatitis is transmitted differently, the length of time that the virus can live outside the body varies from strain to strain.

Here's a closer look at each of the five hepatitis viruses, how they are transmitted, and how long each can live outside the body.

Hepatitis A Virus

The hepatitis A virus is a virus transmitted by food, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated by small amounts of fecal matter from an infected person. Hepatitis A can actually survive outside the body for months in water and for several days in fecal matter. It can also live on the hands for up to four hours.

Because of its longevity and because this type of hepatitis is transmitted through objects, food, or drinks contaminated by undetectable amounts of feces from an infected person, it is highly contagious.

Boiling or cooking food or liquids for at least 1 minute at 185°F (85°C) is a way to kill the virus. Proper hand hygiene can also help. The hepatitis A vaccine is essential for preventing the spread of HAV.

Hepatitis B Virus

The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is transmitted when blood, semen, or other bodily fluids of an infected person enter the body. This can occur through sex with an infected partner, during childbirth, or through intravenous drug use. Hepatitis B can survive for up to a week outside of the human body.

The hepatitis B vaccine can protect against infection.

Hepatitis C Virus

Most people become infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) by sharing needles or other drug-using equipment. Like hepatitis B, the virus can be transmitted through blood, semen, and other body fluids.

Hepatitis C can live outside of the body for at least 16 hours and up to four days. Your risk of catching hepatitis C is minimal if you use safe sexual practices and do not share needles. A hepatitis C vaccine does not currently exist.

Hepatitis D Virus

Hepatitis D's (HVD) primary route of transmission is through contact with infected blood—often from a mother to a baby at birth or through shared needles or unsafe blood products. However, it depends on the presence of hepatitis B to survive and only occurs simultaneously with HBV. So, the amount of time hepatitis D can live outside the body is the same as hepatitis B—up to a week.

As a result, getting the hepatitis B vaccine protects against hepatitis D, as well.

Hepatitis E Virus

Like hepatitis A, hepatitis E (HVE) is transmitted through water, surfaces or bodily fluids that have been contaminated with small amounts of feces. The exact amount of time it can live outside of the body is unknown, but it's thought to be similar to the time hepatitis A can live (months in water and feces and up to four hours on the hands).

Hepatitis E is typically considered a self-limiting disease, meaning it does not result in chronic infection. This type of hepatitis is thought to be very rare, infecting fewer people than hepatitis B and C. Hepatitis E goes away on its own—within four to six weeks. A hepatitis E vaccine does not currently exist.

A Word From Verywell

If you are concerned you may have a strain of hepatitis, speak with a healthcare professional and ask to have your blood tested. It can be scary, but hepatitis is generally very treatable, especially when caught early.

To reduce your risk of becoming infected, make sure you receive the vaccines for both hepatitis A and hepatitis B. To further reduce risk, practice safe sex, reduce or eliminate intravenous drug use, and practice healthy hand hygiene.

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