How Long Can the Hepatitis Viruses Live Outside the Body?

Doctor Taking Blood
Doctor Taking Blood. Adam Berry / Stringer / Getty Images

Viruses and bacteria have a lifespan all of their own, and the longer they can live outside a host, the more contagious they can be. That's why many people wonder how longer the viruses that cause hepatitis can live outside the body, and how long the virus is infectious.

A good rule of thumb is that moist or material is infectious and dried material is much less infectious. However, because each type of viral hepatitis is transmitted differently, the relative importance of the amount of time it can live outside the body is of particular interest.

Here's a closer look at each one of the five hepatitis viruses, how they are transmitted and how long each lives outside the body:

Hepatitis A Virus

The hepatitis A virus, or HAV, is relatively hardy. In good conditions, it can survive outside the body for months. HAV can survive certain acids and some heat. For a period of time and under certain conditions, HAV can survive in sea water, dried feces and live oysters. Because of its longevity and because this type of hepatitis is transmitted through the fecal-oral route, it is highly contagious. Proper hand hygiene and vaccination are essential for preventing the spread of HAV.

Hepatitis B Virus

The hepatitis B virus, or HBV, can remain infectious for up to a week outside the body. The virus is transmitted when blood, semen, or other body fluid of an infected person enters the body, such as through sex with an infected partner, childbirth, or intravenous drug use.

Therefore, unless engaging in these behaviors, despite its long shelf-life, HBV does not pose as great a threat as HAV. In addition, a vaccine currently available can protect against infection. 

Hepatitis C Virus

The hepatitis C virus, or HCV, can live outside the body for up to 4 days. However, many experts think it usually survives up to 16 hours at room temperature.

But like hepatitis B, the virus is transmitted through blood, semen, or other body fluid, and the risk of catching it is minimal if a person is not engaged in any of these behaviors. 

Hepatitis D Virus

While hepatitis D's primary route of transmission through contact with infected blood (most often through shared needles or unsafe blood products), it depends on the presence of hepatitis B to survive. Since it requires hepatitis B in order to survive, vaccination against hepatitis B confers protection against this type of hepatitis as well. 

Hepatitis E Virus

This virus is spread similar to the hepatitis A virus and causes acute disease similar to the others, but is usually a self-limited disease, meaning it does not result in chronic infection. 

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. December 8, 2006. Viral Hepatitis.

Sjogren, MH. Hepatitis A. In: M Feldman, LS Friedman, LJ Brandt (eds), Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease, 8e. Philadelphia, Elsevier, 2006. 1639.

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