Healthcare provider explaining hepatitis C incubation period to patient

Understanding Hepatitis C Incubation Period: What You Need to Know

Written on October 22, 2023 by Gillian (Gigi) Singer, MPH, Sexuality Educator & Certified Sexologist. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

What Is Hepatitis C?

According to The Mayo Clinic, Hepatitis C is a blood-borne infection caused by a virus that causes liver swelling, also known as inflammation. Hepatitis C can lead to serious liver damage.”[1] Chronic, ongoing Hepatitis C is often cured by antiviral medications.

Not all hepatitis C infections progress and become chronic if the infection is cleared from the body after the acute phase.


Symptoms of acute hepatitis C include [2]:

  • Bleeding and bruising easily
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of appetite
  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin (more common in White people) and/or of the whites of the eyes (may appear more in People of Color).
  • Dark urine
  • Itchy skin
  • Ascites (buildup of fluid in the stomach cavity)
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Weight loss
  • Hepatic encephalopathy (confusion, drowsiness, and/or slurred speech)
  • Spider angiomas (blood vessels appearing on the skin that look like spiderwebs)


Hepatitis C spreads when blood infected by the virus enters the bloodstream of someone who isn't affected.[1]

Globally, hepatitis C infection has several forms (genotypes). There are seven genotypes and 67 subtypes. Type 1 is the most common hepatitis C genotype in the U.S.[1]

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Risk Factors

The Mayo Clinic identifies the following as risk factors:

  • Illegal drug use (injected, snorted, or inhaled)
  • Atypical liver test results with an unknown cause
  • Being born to someone with hepatitis C
  • Healthcare and emergency workers who have been in contact with infected blood
  • Hemophiliacs treated before 1987 with certain medications
  • People with long-term hemodialysis.
  • People who received donated blood or organs before 1992
  • Sexual contact with someone infected with hepatitis C
  • Living with HIV
  • Having sex with males
  • Taking PrEP
  • Incarceration


Chronic Hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, and/or liver failure.


Here are ways to prevent getting Hep C:

  • Employ safer sex practices
  • Be wary of body piercing and tattooing equipment/shops
  • Discontinue illegal drug use

Hep C Incubation Period

The incubation period of a disease refers to the time between exposure to the virus and the development of symptoms. In the case of Hepatitis C, the incubation period can vary significantly from person to person. On average, it ranges from 2 weeks to 6 months, with the most common duration being about 6-9 weeks. However, some individuals may not show symptoms for several years after exposure.[3]

Why Is Understanding the Incubation Period Important?

Knowing the potential incubation period of Hepatitis C is crucial for healthcare professionals when evaluating patients. If someone is at risk of HCV exposure, understanding this time frame can help doctors determine the appropriate tests and monitoring schedule.

Awareness of the incubation period is essential for individuals who engage in behaviors that increase the risk of Hepatitis C infection. It can encourage safer practices, such as using clean needles for injections and practicing safe sex.

Since Hepatitis C is often asymptomatic in its early stages, people who are unaware of their infection can unintentionally transmit the virus to others. By recognizing the incubation period, individuals can take precautions to avoid spreading the virus to their loved ones.

Early detection of Hepatitis C can significantly improve treatment outcomes. Individuals who are aware of their potential exposure and the incubation period can seek medical advice promptly, increasing their chances of successful treatment and preventing long-term liver damage.

Test for Hepatitis C With Everlywell

Understanding the incubation period of Hepatitis C is vital for both healthcare professionals and individuals at risk. By being aware of the typical time frame between exposure and symptom onset, we can take proactive steps toward early detection, treatment, and prevention. Hepatitis C is a serious disease, but with knowledge and vigilance, we can work towards reducing its impact on public health. If you believe you may have been exposed to Hepatitis C or are at risk, consult with a healthcare provider for testing and guidance on how to protect yourself and those around you.

You can use EverlyWell’s at-home testing kits to privately test for Hepatitis C in the comfort of your own home.

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  1. Hepatitis C. Mayo Clinic. August 23, 2023. Accessed October 9, 2023.
  2. Samant H, Kudaravalli P, Chiejina M. Ascites. National Library of Medicine. August 8, 2023. Accessed October 10, 2023.
  3. Hepatitis C questions and answers for Health Professionals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. August 7, 2020. Accessed October 9, 2023.
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