How Long Can the Hepatitis Virus Live Outside the Body?

The answer depends on the strain

Doctor Taking Blood

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Viral hepatitis can be caused by any of the five strains of the virus. Each is transmitted differently and each can survive outside of the human body for varying amounts of time.

Having some knowledge of how long a particular strain of the hepatitis virus can exist and how it typically is transmitted can be helpful in protecting yourself and others from infection.

Hepatitis A

The hepatitis A virus (HAV) is transmitted via food, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated with fecal matter from an infected person. Hepatitis A can survive outside the body for months in water and for several days in feces. It also can live on the hands for up to four hours.

For these reasons, it's highly contagious and therefore vital to make sure you're up-to-date with vaccinations. The hepatitis A vaccine is one of the regularly scheduled shots given to babies; it provides immunity for 14 to 20 years.

There also is a dual vaccination for hepatitis A and hepatitis B that is approved for adults 18 and older. Called TWINRIX, this three-dose vaccination is good for up to 25 years.

Other measures to take:

  • Boil or cook food or liquids meant to be consumed for at least one minute at 185°F (85°C) to kill the virus.
  • Wash hands frequently and vigorously, particularly after using the bathroom or visiting a public toilet.

Hepatitis B

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

If you are not up-to-date with your vaccinations, it's a good idea to get a hepatitis B vaccine (or the TWINRIX vaccine). In addition, a properly-fitting condom is important for preventing the spread of HBV between sexual partners. People who use injectable drugs should never share needles or other paraphernalia.

Hepatitis C

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is transmitted through blood, semen, other body fluids, and shared needles.

It can live outside of the body for at least 16 hours and up to four days. There's no vaccine for hepatitis C, but the risk of HCV transmission can be minimized by following safer sex practices (always using a condom) and, for those who use intravenous drugs, never sharing or borrowing used needles.

Hepatitis D

The primary route of transmission of hepatitis D (HDV) is contact with infected blood. However, hepatitis D can only exist in the presence of hepatitis B, so preventing transmission of HVD is a matter of taking measures to prevent transmission of HBV, including getting the hepatitis B vaccine.

Hepatitis D can live outside the body for up to a week.

Hepatitis E

The hepatitis E virus (HEV) can be contracted from water, bodily fluids, and surfaces that are contaminated with infected fecal matter. The exact amount of time HEV can survive 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 infection is a self-limiting disease, meaning it does not result in chronic illness and usually clears up within four to six weeks. It's relatively rare. There's no HEV vaccine.

A Word From Verywell

If you are concerned you may have been exposed to any strain of hepatitis virus, see a health care provider. They can arrange for you to have a blood test to determine if you've been infected. The idea of doing this may be scary, so it's important to know that hepatitis generally is highly treatable, especially when caught early.

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Article 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 A questions and answers for the public. 2019.

  2. Up To Date. Patient education: Hepatitis A (beyond the basics). updated Oct 2019.

  3. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Addressing viral Hepatitis in people with substance use disorders. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2011. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 53.) 1, Overview of Viral Hepatitis.

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