Jaundice is a condition that occurs when too much bilirubin — a byproduct of the breakdown of red blood cells — builds up in the body. The most well-known symptom of jaundice is a yellow tint to the skin, eyes, and mucus membranes.
Jaundice isn’t contagious, but the underlying conditions that cause it can be. Let’s take a closer look.
Communicable diseases are those that can be contagious or passed from person to person. Some of these diseases can cause jaundice as a symptom. Examples include viral hepatitis:
- Hepatitis A. This disease is spread when a person who hasn’t had the hepatitis A vaccine eats food or water that’s contaminated with the feces of a person with hepatitis A. It’s more common in areas where there isn’t access to a quality water supply.
- Hepatitis B. This infection type is transmitted through contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected person. This can be transmitted via sexual contact as well as by sharing needles.
- Hepatitis C. Like hepatitis B, hepatitis C can also be transmitted by sharing needles and having sexual contact. Healthcare providers are also at risk if they accidentally stick themselves with a needle used on someone with the infection.
- Hepatitis D. This condition occurs when a person comes in contact with infected blood and already has the hepatitis B virus. A person can’t have hepatitis D if they don’t have hepatitis B.
- Hepatitis E. Hepatitis E is transmitted through contaminated drinking water. However, it doesn’t usually cause a long-lasting or chronic infection.
Other conditions that can cause jaundice as a symptom include:
- Weil’s disease. This condition is contracted through contact with contaminated soil or water as well as contact with the blood, urine, or other tissues of animals that have the disease.
- Yellow fever. This is a viral illness that is spread by mosquitoes, most commonly in parts of the world such as Africa and South America.
While these two conditions are less common in the United States, it’s possible to get them when traveling in other countries.
There are many potential causes of jaundice that aren’t contagious, including rare diseases and genetic disorders.
Sometimes, more than one member of a household can have jaundice at the same time. This can be because of an inherited condition they each have or a medication in common they both take.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, there are more than 150 medications that can cause liver damage significant enough to result in jaundice. But having the same inherited condition or taking the same medication isn’t the same as “catching” jaundice from one another.
Unconjugated hyperbilirubinemia is a condition that affects red blood cells, causing excess turnover of red blood cells. This results in too much bilirubin in the blood. Causes of these conditions aren’t usually contagious and include:
- autoimmune hemolytic anemia
- Gilbert’s syndrome
- glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency
- polycythemia vera
- sickle cell anemia
Jaundice can also affect people who have liver problems. This includes those who have liver damage due to chronic and excessive alcohol consumption.
Clearly, this type of liver damage isn’t contagious. However, if excessive drinking is part of your social lifestyle, multiple people in your group of friends could, at least in theory, experience liver damage and jaundice as a result.
Other conditions that can cause jaundice that aren’t contagious include:
- nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- autoimmune disorders, such as autoimmune hepatitis
- cancers, such as those of the liver, pancreas, or gallbladder
- cholestasis, where bile cannot flow from the liver
- sepsis, a result of severe underlying infection
- Wilson’s disease
Jaundice is a condition that commonly occurs in newborns. The condition can occur because a child’s liver is still developing, and it can’t remove bilirubin fast enough. Also, an infant’s red blood cells turn over faster than an adult’s, so their bodies must filter higher bilirubin amounts.
Like other jaundice forms, infant jaundice isn’t contagious. Also, the causes of infant jaundice aren’t contagious. Many moms may wonder if it’s their fault if their baby has jaundice. Unless something in their lifestyle led to premature birth, the mother didn’t contribute in any way to a baby’s jaundice.
Jaundice is a condition that results from excess bilirubin in the body. In addition to yellow-tinged skin and eyes, a person with jaundice can have symptoms such as itching, stomach pain, appetite loss, dark urine, or fever.
While jaundice itself isn’t contagious, it’s possible to transmit the underlying causes of jaundice to another person. This is the case for many viral hepatitis causes.
If you notice any yellowing of the skin or other symptoms of jaundice, contact your doctor right away. With treatment for the underlying cause, outlook is good.