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Viral Hepatitis

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. Heavy alcohol use, toxins, certain medications, some diseases, and viral infections can cause hepatitis. Hepatitis is most often caused by one of several viruses, such as hepatitis A virus, hepatitis B virus, or hepatitis C virus.

Hepatitis B

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis B virus. Some people get infected with hepatitis B and develop an acute, or short-term, illness, while others develop a chronic, or long-term, illness.

How is hepatitis B spread?

Hepatitis B is usually spread when blood, semen, or another body fluid from a person infected with hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person; having sex with an infected partner; an infected mother passing it to her baby at birth; or sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment.

Can hepatitis B be prevented?

Yes. The best way to prevent hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated. For adults, the hepatitis B vaccine series is usually given as 3 shots during a 6-month period.

Hepatitis C

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that damages the liver. Hepatitis C can be either “acute” (short term) or “chronic” (long term).

How is hepatitis C spread?

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. Today, most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs.

Can a person get hepatitis C from a tattoo or piercing?

There is little evidence that hepatitis C is spread by getting tattoos in licensed commercial facilities. Whenever tattoos or piercings are performed in informal settings or with non-sterile instruments, transmission of hepatitis C or other infectious diseases is possible.

Can hepatitis C be prevented?

Yes. To reduce the risk of becoming infected with hepatitis C virus:

  • Do not share needles or other equipment to inject drugs, steroids, or cosmetic substances.
  • Do not use personal items that my have come into contact with an infected person’s blood, such as razors, nail clippers, toothbrushes, or glucose monitors.
  • Do not get tattoos or body piercings from an unlicensed facility or in an informal setting.

Is there a vaccine for hepatitis C?

Although there is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C, research is being conducted to develop one. Vaccines are available for hepatitis A and hepatitis B.

How common is hepatitis C?

An estimated 3.2 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C, and many are unaware of their infection. Each year, about 17,000 Americans become infected with hepatitis C.

How serious is chronic hepatitis C?

Chronic hepatitis C is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems, including liver damage, liver failure, and liver cancer. Approximately 8,000-10,000 people die every year from hepatitis C-related liver disease.

How is hepatitis C diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose both acute and chronic infection using one or more blood tests.

Does hepatitis C cause symptoms?

Most people with hepatitis C have no symptoms. If symptoms develop with acute infection, they can appear two weeks to six months after exposure and can include: fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay colored bowel movements, joint pain, and jaundice. For people with chronic hepatitis C, symptoms may take years to develop.

How is hepatitis C treated?

Acute hepatitis C rarely causes symptoms and often goes undiagnosed. When it is undiagnosed, doctors recommend rest, adequate nutrition, fluids, and antiviral medications. People with chronic hepatitis C should be monitored regularly for signs of liver disease.

Who should get tested for hepatitis C?

People at risk include those who:

  • Currently inject drugs
  • Injected drugs in the past, even if it was once or many years ago
  • Have HIV or AIDS
  • Have abnormal liver tests or liver disease
  • Received donated blood or organs before 1992
  • Have been exposed to blood on the job through a needlestick or injury with a sharp object
  • Are getting long term hemodialysis

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