How Long Can Hepatitis Viruses Live Outside the Body?

The length of survival depends on the type

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. Generally speaking, materials that are moist are more likely to be infectious than dried materials. However, because each type of viral hepatitis is transmitted differently, how long the virus can live outside your body varies from strain to strain.

Here's a closer look at each one 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 (HAV) is relatively hardy. In good conditions, it can survive outside the body for months, including in certain acids and some heat. For a period of time and under certain conditions, HAV can survive in seawater, 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 (HBV) can remain infectious up to a week outside of your body. The virus is transmitted when blood, semen, or other bodily fluids of an infected person enter your body. This can occur through sex with an infected partner, childbirth, or intravenous drug use. Unless engaging in these behaviors, despite its long shelf-life, HBV does not pose as great a threat as HAV.

The hepatitis B vaccine can protect against infection.

Hepatitis C Virus

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) can live outside of your body for up to four days. However, many experts think the virus typically survives for up to 16 hours at room temperature. Like hepatitis B, the virus can be transmitted through blood, semen, and other body fluids.

Your risk of catching hepatitis C is minimal if you use safe sexual practices and do not share needles.

Hepatitis D Virus

While hepatitis D's primary route of transmission is through contact with infected blood—most often through shared needles or unsafe blood products—hepatitis D depends on the presence of hepatitis B to survive. As a result, getting the hepatitis B vaccine protects you against hepatitis D as well.

Hepatitis E Virus

This virus is spread similar to the hepatitis A virus and causes acute disease similar to the other types of hepatitis. In most cases, hepatitis E is transmitted through a dirty water supply, which is contaminated with feces. Hepatitis E is typically considered a self-limited 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—typically within four to six weeks.

If you are concerned you may have hepatitis, speak with a healthcare professional and ask to have your blood checked for the virus.  Safe sex practices and not sharing needles lower your risk of developing the virus.

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.

Continue Reading