What makes hepatitis C so damaging and dangerous is that when you are infected it does not immediately become apparent, as there is an incubation period — the time between the first contact with the virus and the first signs of illness manifest — for this disease.
The incubation period varies from person to person, depending on the HCV virus, the health of the person and other factors.
It May Take a Certain Time Before You Notice the Symptoms
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), HCV has an incubation period of two weeks to six months (14 to 180 days).1 This is a significantly long time, compared to that of cold virus, which has an incubation period of less than a week.
However, for acute hepatitis C, the incubation period is typically anywhere between six to 10 weeks.2 Hepatitis C’s incubation period is significantly different from other types of hepatitis.
Hepatitis A (HAV) has an incubation period of only 15 to 50 days, while hepatitis B (HBV) may manifest between 45 to 160 days. The difference in their incubation periods may be because of the nature of the diseases and how they are transmitted.
A significant percentage of people infected with HCV do not show any symptoms. According to Health Line, 80 percent are asymptomatic, which is the main reason their condition is not diagnosed immediately.3
Those who do develop symptoms typically suffer from fever, fatigue, appetite loss, vomiting, dark urine and, abdominal and joint pain — symptoms that may be mistaken for other less dangerous illnesses. Grey feces and jaundice may also manifest after the incubation period.4
To avoid hepatitis C, it is crucial that you take precautions against the common risk factors, such as refraining from using recreational IV drugs (and all addictive drugs in particular), making sure to get piercings and tattoos from safe establishments and avoiding contact with an infected person’s blood.
However, remember that even if you do not have direct blood contact with an HCV-positive person, you may still fall victim to this disease — here’s why.
Hepatitis C Can Live Outside the Body
Many people think that because hepatitis C is a blood infection, they can only get it if they make contact with an infected person’s blood. But actually, there is usually an intermediary — a middle object — between the infected blood and uninfected blood. What’s worse, the virus can stay alive (and infectious) for a certain period of time.5
There are certain factors that can affect how long bacteria and viruses can survive outside of the body. These include the temperature of the environment, humidity and the amount of virus deposited on the surface. As for HCV, according to the CDC, it can live on environmental surfaces for 16 hours to four days, at room temperature.
What’s more, studies have found that the virus can survive for longer periods in liquids. A 2010 study published in Virology Journal has found that the virus could survive in a liquid medium for two days at 98 degrees Fahrenheit, 16 days at 77 degrees Fahrenheit and at least six weeks at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.6
The virus’ ability to live outside the body for certain time periods definitely has an effect on HCV’s high rate of transmission — no wonder that it’s one of the most common blood-borne illnesses today.