Is Jaundice Contagious?

Jaundice is a condition characterized by the yellowing of the skin, whites of the eyes, and mucous membranes. This discoloration is caused by the buildup of a yellow-orange pigment called bilirubin in the body’s tissues. Bilirubin is a byproduct of the normal breakdown of old red blood cells, but high levels of bilirubin can indicate an underlying medical condition.

Jaundice itself is not contagious, meaning it cannot be spread from person to person. However, the underlying causes of jaundice can sometimes be contagious. This is because many of the conditions that lead to jaundice, such as viral hepatitis, are infectious diseases. Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between jaundice and contagiousness.

The Causes of Jaundice

There are several possible reasons why someone may develop jaundice:

1. Liver Dysfunction

The most common cause of jaundice is improper liver function. The liver is responsible for processing bilirubin and excreting it from the body. If the liver is not working properly, bilirubin can build up, leading to jaundice.

Liver dysfunction can have a variety of underlying causes, including:

– Viral hepatitis (hepatitis A, B, C, D, or E)

– Alcoholic liver disease

– Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

– Cirrhosis 

– Liver cancer

2. Bile Duct Blockage

Another common cause of jaundice is a blockage in the bile ducts, which are the tubes that carry bile (which contains bilirubin) from the liver to the small intestine. Blockages can be caused by:

– Gallstones

– Bile duct cancer

– Pancreatitis

– Bile duct scarring

3. Red Blood Cell Destruction

Excessive destruction of red blood cells, known as hemolysis, can also lead to jaundice. This can be caused by:

– Inherited blood disorders like sickle cell anemia or thalassemia

– Autoimmune disorders

– Certain infections

4. Newborn Jaundice

Newborn babies often develop jaundice in the first few days after birth due to the immaturity of their liver function. This is called physiologic jaundice and is usually mild and resolves on its own.

So in summary, the underlying causes of jaundice can range from liver problems to red blood cell disorders to newborn physiologic conditions. The key question is – are any of these causes contagious?

Is Jaundice Contagious?

The short answer is no, jaundice itself is not contagious. Jaundice is simply a symptom – a visible sign that something else is going on in the body. The yellowish discoloration cannot be transmitted from one person to another.

However, some of the medical conditions that can lead to jaundice are in fact contagious. Viral hepatitis, for example, is a group of infectious liver diseases that can cause jaundice. Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E are all viral infections that can be spread through contact with contaminated blood or bodily fluids.

So while jaundice is not contagious, the underlying hepatitis infection that caused the jaundice would be. Other infectious causes of jaundice, like certain bacterial or parasitic infections, would also be contagious in the same way.

It’s important to note that newborn jaundice, which is very common and usually harmless, is not contagious at all. This type of jaundice is simply due to the immaturity of the newborn’s liver and does not involve any infectious agent.

When Is Jaundice Contagious?

As mentioned, jaundice itself is not contagious, but the underlying conditions that can cause jaundice may be. Let’s take a closer look at when jaundice may be associated with a contagious illness:

Viral Hepatitis

Viral hepatitis, particularly hepatitis A, B, and C, is one of the most common contagious causes of jaundice. These viral infections attack the liver and can lead to inflammation, scarring, and impaired liver function. 

Hepatitis A is usually spread through contaminated food or water, or close personal contact with an infected person. Hepatitis B and C are spread through contact with infected blood or body fluids, often through sharing needles or having unprotected sex.

When someone has jaundice due to viral hepatitis, they are considered contagious and can spread the infection to others. The period of contagiousness varies depending on the type of hepatitis, but it’s crucial for those with jaundice from hepatitis to avoid spreading the virus to others.

Bacterial and Parasitic Infections

Less commonly, jaundice can also be caused by certain bacterial or parasitic infections that affect the liver, bile ducts, or red blood cells. Examples include:

– Leptospirosis (a bacterial infection spread through contact with infected animal urine)

– Malaria (a parasitic infection spread by mosquitoes)

– Babesiosis (a parasitic infection spread by ticks)

Similar to viral hepatitis, these types of infectious illnesses that can cause jaundice are also contagious and require precautions to prevent transmission.

Newborn Jaundice

As mentioned earlier, newborn jaundice is extremely common and is not contagious at all. It is simply a temporary condition caused by the immaturity of the baby’s liver. Newborns with jaundice do not pose any risk of spreading an infection to others.

So in summary, while jaundice itself is not contagious, the underlying medical conditions that may be causing the jaundice, such as viral hepatitis or certain infections, can absolutely be spread from person to person. Proper medical care and infection control measures are essential in these cases.

Preventing the Spread of Contagious Causes of Jaundice

For individuals with jaundice caused by a contagious illness, there are important steps that can be taken to prevent the spread of the infection to others:

1. Seek prompt medical care. It’s crucial to see a doctor right away if jaundice develops, in order to identify the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment.

2. Follow infection control guidelines. This may include washing hands frequently, avoiding close contact with others, and properly disposing of any contaminated materials.

3. Avoid sharing personal items. Things like towels, razors, toothbrushes, and eating utensils should not be shared with others.

4. Practice safe sex. If the jaundice is caused by a sexually transmitted infection like hepatitis B, safe sex practices are essential to prevent transmission.

5. Get vaccinated. Vaccines are available for some types of viral hepatitis, which can help protect against infection and prevent the development of jaundice.

6. Complete medical treatment. It’s important to fully recover from the underlying illness causing the jaundice before resuming normal activities and contact with others.

By taking these precautions, individuals with jaundice due to contagious conditions can help stop the spread of the infection and protect the health of those around them.


In summary, jaundice itself is not a contagious condition – it is simply a symptom indicating an underlying medical issue. However, many of the diseases and disorders that can lead to jaundice, such as viral hepatitis, are in fact highly contagious.

It’s crucial for anyone developing jaundice to seek prompt medical care to determine the cause and receive appropriate treatment. If the jaundice is due to an infectious illness, proper infection control measures must be taken to prevent the spread of the disease to others.

With early diagnosis, proper treatment, and diligent infection control, the risk of transmitting a contagious illness that may be causing jaundice can be greatly reduced. By understanding the relationship between jaundice and contagiousness, individuals can stay informed and take the necessary steps to protect their own health and that of their loved ones.

Justin Lian

Justin Lian

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