• Thu. Jun 30th, 2022
Hepatitis

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The liver is a vital organ, and when it is inflamed or damaged, its function can be impaired, including the ability to process nutrients, filter blood, and fight infections. Hepatitis is usually caused by a viral infection, but there are other possible causes, including excessive alcohol use, toxins, certain medications, and certain medical conditions.

The ABCs of Viral Hepatitis

Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are the most ordinary types of viral hepatitis in the United States. Although each causes the same symptoms, they can spread in different ways and affect the liver differently. Hepatitis A is commonly a short-term infection and does not become chronic. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C can start as short-term, severe infections, but they can also lead to chronic illness and long-term liver problems.

There are effective vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Although there is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C, there are effective treatments, which is why testing and early detection of infection are important. Millions of people in the United States live with chronic viral hepatitis, and most are unaware that they have the virus.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is an infectious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). The virus is usually spread through eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water, but it can also be spread through close personal contact with an infected person, such as family or sexual contact. Hepatitis A is the most common vaccine-preventable disease acquired during travel.

Most adults with hepatitis A have symptoms, including yellow skin or eyes (jaundice), stomachache, tiredness, fatigue, loss of appetite, or nausea, that usually resolve within two months of infection. Most children less than 6 years of age are asymptomatic; however, they are very contagious and can spread an infection to others very efficiently.

The hepatitis A vaccine is 94 to 100 percent effective in preventing the disease. Care begins about two to four weeks after the first injection. The second injection results in longer protection. 

Symptoms

Children under the age of 6 generally do not have hepatitis A symptoms. In older children and adults, signs of hepatitis A may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Dark urine
  • Diarrhea
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice

Symptoms are usually mild and subside within two months, although signs can relapse for up to 6 months.

Causes

Hepatitis A is spread through close personal contact with an infected person, sexual contact with an infected person, eating contaminated food, or drinking contaminated water.

Groups at increased risk include:

  • Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
  • People who have direct contact with infected individuals
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Users of injection and non-injection drugs
  • People with clotting factor disorders
  • People working with nonhuman primates
  • Family members and other close personal contacts of newly adopted children from countries where hepatitis A is common
  • People who are HIV positive
  • People experiencing homelessness

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus can affect people of all ages. Once infected, some people carry the virus for the rest of their lives. This is called a “chronic” infection and it can lead to hepatitis, liver cancer, and death. The virus is found in the blood and body liquids of infected people. It is most often spread through adult sexual contact, sharing injections and other medications, or from an HBV-infected mother to a newborn. HBV can also be spread through regular household contact with HBV-infected people.

Some people get ill within the first six months after getting infected. The symptoms of this “acute” hepatitis are loss of appetite, stomachache, tiredness, nausea, and vomiting. These people might also have yellow of the whites of the eyes (jaundice) or joint pain. For some people, acute infection leads to chronic infection. People with chronic HBV infection commonly do not feel sick for many years but will have symptoms if they develop the most serious complications from hepatitis B, like cirrhosis or liver cancer. A person infected with the virus can pass it on to others even if he or she does not feel sick or show signs. The best method to prevent hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated.

Symptoms

The symptoms of hepatitis B vary with age. Most children under the age of 5 have no symptoms. In older children and adults, the symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Jaundice
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Joint pain

Chronic Infection

The risk of chronic infection with hepatitis B varies greatly with age. About 90 percent of infected children and up to 50 percent of infected children aged 1-5 years are infected with HPV. In contrast, approximately 95 percent of adults do not fully recover from HPV infection and become chronically infected. Complications of chronic HBV infection include cirrhosis or liver cancer. 

Causes

Hepatitis B is spread by exposure to infected blood or body fluids, including:

  • Birth to an infected mother
  • Sex with an infected partner
  • Injection-drug use that involves sharing needles or syringes
  • Contact with the infected person’s blood or open sores
  • Injuries due to needle sticks or sharp instruments

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is a virus that spreads through the blood. For some, hepatitis C is a short-term disease, but 75-85 percent of people with hepatitis C will have a chronic, chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C is a serious illness that can lead to chronic health problems and even death. Most of the victims may not be aware of their infection because they are not medically ill. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but there is an effective treatment. The best way to prevent hepatitis C is to avoid contagious behaviors, especially injecting medications and sharing needles.

Symptoms

People with severe HCV infection usually have no symptoms or mild symptoms.

If symptoms occur, they include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice

Most people with chronic HCV infection do not experience symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose and treat. Many eventually develop chronic liver disease, which can range from mild to severe. Complications include cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Causes

HCV is primarily transmitted through infected blood. The exchange may result in:

  • Sharing to make or inject needles, syringes, or other equipment
  • Needlestick injuries in healthcare settings
  • Born to a mother with hepatitis C.

In general, a person can get the hepatitis C virus:

  • Tattooing or body tattooing in an uncontrolled setting
  • Sharing personal care items related to another person’s blood
  • Having sex with someone infected with the hepatitis C virus

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV). Hepatitis D occurs only in people who are already infected with the hepatitis B virus and is uncommon in the United States. There is no vaccine for hepatitis D, but it can be prevented with the hepatitis B vaccine.

Hepatitis E

Hepatitis E is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV). People with HEV usually recover completely without any problems. Hepatitis E is rare in the United States but is common in many parts of the world. No vaccine for hepatitis E is now available in the United States.

When to see a doctor

If you know you’ve been exposed to hepatitis contact your doctor immediately. If you receive treatment within 24 hours of being infected, preventative treatment may reduce your risk of infection.

If you think you have symptoms of hepatitis contact your doctor.