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Hepatitis C Survival on Inanimate Objects

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. February 14, 2012

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We usually think of Hepatitis C as a virus that is passed from person to person. However, most infections occur via an intermediary, inanimate object. Thus, determining the length of time Hepatitis C can survive outside the body is crucial to prevent transmission of this virus.

As an increasing number of people are being diagnosed with Hepatitis C, the demand to understand how this virus can be transmitted grows accordingly. Scientists know that the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is primarily transmitted via blood to blood contact; however, there is usually an intermediary between infected blood and not-yet-infected blood. Depending on several different variables, the inanimate intermediary can keep HCV viable for a surprisingly long time.

Every virus has a different capability for surviving outside the body. According to Mayo Clinic internist James M. Steckelberg, MD, the length of time a virus survives depends partly on where the germ-laden droplets fall. Experiments with specific cold and flu germs have found the following:

  • Potential survival times for a virus outside the body range from a few minutes to 48 hours or more.
  • Cold and flu germs generally remain active longer on stainless steel, plastic and similar hard surfaces than on fabric and other soft surfaces.
  • Demonstrating that all viruses are different, flu viruses seem to live longer than cold viruses do – regardless of the surface.
  • Other factors affecting how long germs can survive outside of the body are the temperature of the environment, its humidity and the amount of virus deposited on the surface.

Several of these variables have a direct impact on how long HCV can survive outside the body. Testing blood on exposed surfaces while considering the surface’s texture, room temperature, amount of blood exposed, viral load (low/high) and various contaminants in the environment makes the determination of how long Hepatitis C survives outside the body very complex.

Compared to other viruses, HCV is a relatively hardy pathogen. Known to survive outside the body for days in dried blood on surfaces, Hepatitis C can persist for months in a liquid medium under favorable conditions. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HCV can survive on environmental surfaces at room temperature for at least 16 hours but no longer than four days. In contrast, the HIV virus can only live on surfaces for several hours.

  • As reported in the June 15, 2010 edition of The Journal of Infectious Diseases, researchers from Germany confirmed that HCV survives longer in liquids than it does when dried on surfaces. They found that in a liquid environment, HCV was detectable for up to five months at lower temperatures.
  • As published in a February 2010 edition of Virology Journal, Chinese researchers determined that HCV could survive in a liquid medium for two days at 98ºF (body temperature),16 days at 77 ºF and at least six weeks at 40ºF (average refrigerator temperature).
  • Presented in February 2010 at the 17th Conference on Retroviruses & Opportunistic Infections, American researchers found that under the right circumstances, HCV remained viable in a syringe for up to 63 days. Circumstances that increased HCV infectivity include syringes with detachable needles, lower temperature and larger volume syringes.

HCV’s ability to live for a prolonged period of time outside the body under the right conditions has extraordinary implications for its transmission. Some of the carriers known to transmit the virus include straws used for nasal drug use, needles used for administering drugs, tattooing, sharing personal care equipment like razors or toothbrushes, certain sexual devices and reuse of medical equipment in healthcare settings.

Although we know that it is spread between blood sources, inanimate objects often act as the intermediary to transmit infection. Thus, understanding how long the Hepatitis C virus can survive outside the body – in all situations – can help guide us toward failsafe practices for reducing the risk of HCV transmission.

References:

http://www.hcvadvocate.org/hepatitis/factsheets_pdf/How%20_long.pdf, How Long Does HCV Live on Surfaces?, Alan Franciscus, Retrieved September 7, 2010, Hepatitis C Support Project, 2010.

http://www.hcvadvocate.org/news/newsLetter/2010/advocate0910.html#2, HCV Outside the Body: How Well Does It Survive on Surfaces, in Syringes, and in the Lab?, Liz Highleyman, Retrieved September 7, 2010, Hepatitis C Support Project, 2010.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/infectious-disease/AN01238, Flu germs:How long can they live outside the body?, James M. Steckelberg, MD, Retrieved September 10, 2010, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2010.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12410020, Does bleach disinfection of syringes protect against hepatitis C infection among young adult injection drug users?, Kapadia F, et al, Retrieved September 9, 2010, Epidemiology, November 2002.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19058925, The association of syringe type and syringe cleaning with HCV infection among IDUs in Budapest, Hungary, Gyarmathy VA, et al, Retrieved September 10, 2010, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, March 2009.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20167059, Thermal stability and inactivation of hepatitis C virus grown in cell culture, Song H, et al, Retrieved September 9, 2010, Virology Journal, February 2010.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20441517, How stable is the hepatitis C virus (HCV)? Environmental stability of HCV and its susceptibility to chemical biocides, Ciesek S, et al, Retrieved September 9, 2010, The Journal of Infectious Diseases, June 2010.

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HepatitisCentral.com provides information regarding hepatitis and liver disease. Comments are available to the community in order to discuss these topics and obtain answers to questions through community members. The Editors at HepatitisCentral.com will not be responding to questions or comments posed in article comments.

  • Jesse

    Can HCV live in honey?

  • someone

    I recently took a used a public shower after running and noticed I had a bleeding blister on my foot. I washed the shower afterwards with soap. Is that enough to kill it? I am really worried.

  • justme

    My liver is in failure n just this morning my boyfriend tells me he has hepatitis but can’t remember what kind…I hope this does not happen to you

    • joe smith

      Dump that jerk already.

    • Any One

      If he knowingly had Hep C & had unprotected sex with you w/o telling you he was infected, I’m pretty sure that’s a serious criminal offense, same as it is with HIV under the same circumstances.

  • Jramza

    The CDC site now states:

    How long does the Hepatitis C virus survive outside the body?

    The Hepatitis C virus can survive outside the body at room temperature, on environmental surfaces, for up to 3 weeks.