Does Hepatitis C Spread through Saliva?

How the Disease Is Spread

Man Drinking Beer
Man Drinking Beer. Justin Sullivan / Staff / Getty Images

Sharing a drink or other eating utensils with someone who has hepatitis C will not put you at risk for contracting the disease. Hepatitis C is spread by contact with infected blood, so unless there is blood on the glass and it contacted on open wound in your mouth, there is no risk of infection.

When blood infected with hepatitis C enters the bloodstream of a previously uninfected person, there is an incubation period of about 7 weeks, on average, during which the illness causes no signs or symptoms.

Once it enters the bloodstream, the virus travels to the liver where in inhabits liver cells known as hepatocytes. After a certain number of hepatocytes are infected, the immune system mounts a response. This immune response is actually responsible for the damage caused to the liver because of hepatitis infection. 

Casual Contact and Hepatitis C Transmission

In fact, there is no evidence that casual contact, in general, spreads hepatitis C. Casual contact includes kissing, sneezing, hugging, coughing, sharing food or water, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses.

However, there is a slight risk of infection among household contacts, which means people who live with someone who is hepatitis C positive have a greater chance of becoming infected. This is probably because people who live together tend to share personal items like razors and toothbrushes, which may be contaminated with infected blood.

Preventing Transmission of Hepatitis C

Like hepatitis B, hepatitis C is transmitted primarily when infected blood makes contact with an open wound or accesses the bloodstream. For example, intravenous drug users who share needles are at extremely high risk for contracting the virus. In fact, about half of new hepatitis C cases are spread by intravenous drug use.


Activities that expose a person to the blood of an infected person are particularly high risk. In addition to intravenous drug use, these include blood transfusions prior to 1992 when formal screening began, tattooing and body piercing, occupational exposure, medical procedures. Sexual contact (anal, oral or genital) has been shown to be an inefficient route of exposure, as is mother-to-child in childbirth, although transmission is possible during these activities.

Other Types of Hepatitis and Their Transmission

While you cannot contract Hepatitis C by sharing a drink with an infected person, there are other types of hepatitis (and other infectious diseases) that can be transmitted through saliva.

Hepatitis A, E and possibly F are transmitted through the oral-fecal route, meaning through the ingestion of fecal matter from an infected person. This can take place when an infected person uses the washroom and doesn't practice proper hand hygiene afterwards, then contaminates surfaces shared by others.

If someone's fingers come into contact with one of those surfaces, then that person uses his or her hands to eat, he or she could become infected. Poor hygiene and poor sanitary conditions in some countries lead to high rates of infection. One third of people in the United States of America have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. March 7, 2008. Viral Hepatitis.

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