Hepatitis

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis. Hepatitis is also the name of a family of viral infections that affect the liver; the most common types in the United States are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.

These unrelated viruses are spread from one person to another through different routes. Safe and effective vaccines have been available for hepatitis B since 1981 and for hepatitis A since1995.  No vaccine exists yet against hepatitis C.  All three of these viruses can produce an illness characterized by nausea, abdominal pain, and jaundice.  HBV and HCV also can produce a chronic infection that is associated with an increased risk for chronic liver disease and liver cancer. 

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis A virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests fecal matter - even in microscopic amounts - from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces or stool of an infected person.
The virus spreads more easily in areas where sanitary conditions and personal hygiene practices are poor.

The best way to prevent hepatitis A is by getting vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV).  It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death.  For example, HBV is spread through: having sex with an infected person, sharing needles, or accidental needle sticks and from an infected mother to her baby during birth.  If you are at risk for hepatitis B, ask your health care provider for a hepatitis B test (which is a simple blood test) to determine if you have been infected with HBV.  If you have not been infected, a vaccine can protect you from HBV.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Hepatitis C can be either “acute” or “chronic.” Acute hepatitis C virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the hepatitis C virus. For most people, acute infection leads to chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C is a serious disease than can result in long-term health problems, or even death. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The best way to prevent hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injection drug use.

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