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Region 7 Public Health Office

The Hepatitis Viruses

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. Among the most common types of hepatitis in the US are three (3) infectious ones (Hepatitis A, B & C) caused by viruses and which are highly contagious. The cases of these diseases are on the rise. But the good news is that they are all preventable if we are just a little more careful in our daily lives. So to help you, your friends and your family to stay healthy longer, follow these guidelines:

Hepatitis A is spread mostly from eating food or water that has been contaminated with fecal matter. South Carolina has experienced a 60% increase in reported Hepatitis A cases over the five year period 1996 - 2000, rising from 54 cases in 1996 to 87 in 2000. But, this is a very preventable disease. To reduce the spread of this disease, make careful hand washing a habit.

Hepatitis B is more easily spread than HIV, and, unlike most viruses and bacteria, it can live on a dry surface for up to 7 days. There has been a decline in this disease, with the greatest decline among children and adolescents due to the hepatitis B vaccination, which is a requirement in South Carolina for all children attending publicly funded schools and who are in grades K5 - 12th. South Carolina has seen the number of reported cases drop by 78% over the five year period 1996 - 2000, falling from 104 cases to 23. The highest rate of the disease now occurs in 20 - 49 year olds.

Hepatitis C is spread in much the same way as hepatitis B, usually by sharing needles or other exposure to infected blood. Infection with this virus can lead to liver failure, and there isno vaccine available. You should get tested for hepatitis C if any of these apply to you:

  • Have ever injected illegal drugs, even if you experimented a few times many years ago
  • Received a blood transfusion or solid organ transplant before July, 1992
  • Received a blood product produced before 1987, for clotting problems
  • Have ever been on long-term kidney dialysis
  • Have been pricked with a needle that has infected blood on it
  • Were born to a mother with hepatitis C
  • Have ever had a tattoo
 
Hepatitis A
Hepatitis B
Hepatitis C
What are the symptoms? The possible symptoms of this virus may include: tiredness, poor appetite, fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, urine that may become dark in color and jaundice. Children may not have any symptoms. Among the possible symptoms of this virus are: tiredness, poor appetite, fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, joint pain, and jaundice. About 30% of people will have no symptoms. Among the possible symptoms of this virus are: tiredness, poor appetite, fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, urine that may become dark in color and jaundice. However, most people infected with Hepatitis C experience no symptoms.
How long does it take from the time of infection until symptoms begin? Most people will experience symptoms within 3-4 weeks after exposure. Most people will experience symptoms in about 90 days, but the incubation period could range from 45 - 180 days Most people will experience symptoms in 6-7 weeks after exposure, but the incubation period could range from 2 weeks to 6 months
How long does it last? Most people recover within a few weeks. While most people recover within 6 months, as many as 90% of infants, 30 % of children younger than 5 and 6% of older children, teens and adults who are infected will remain infectious for more than 6 months and often throughout their lives. About 85% of the people with Hepatitis C infection become chronic carriers, meaning they can continue to infection other people for over 6 months and possibly throughout their life even though they do not show any symptoms of the disease.
How is it spread? The hepatitis A virus is spread mostly from eating food or water that has been contaminated with fecal matter from an infected person. It is passed from the stools/bowel movement from people with a recent hepatitis A infection. It can be spread by unwashed or poorly washed hands and by eating or drinking food handled by the infected person. In some cases, hepatitis A can also be spread by eating raw or undercooked shellfish harvested from contaminated water or by sexual contact. This disease spreads through contact with blood and body fluids from an infected person. It can cause scarring of the liver, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer. In addition to being spread by sexual contact, an infected mother can spread it to her unborn child. About 10% of people with Hepatitis B infection will become chronic carriers,meaning they can continue to infection other people throughout their life even though they do not show any symptoms of the disease. Hepatitis C is typically spread by sharing needles or by some other exposure to infected blood. Sexual transmission is not common, but the risk grows with the number of sexual partners and if conditions such as cirrhosis and liver cancer exist.
What can we do to stop the spread of this disease? The most effective way to prevent the spread of hepatitis A is by careful handwashing. Carefully wash all fruits and vegetables before serving. Also, infected people should not handle food while they may be contagious.

A vaccine is available and is recommended for:

  • All children 12 months - 23 months of age
  • Travelers to areas with increased rates of hepatitis A
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Injecting and non-injecting drug users
  • Persons with clotting-factor disorders (e.g. hemophilia)
  • Persons with chronic liver disease
  • Children living in regions of the U.S. with consistently increased rates of hepatitis A (refer to www.cdc.gov/ for a map )
There is no cure for Hepatitis B once you become infected, so prevention is key. The things we can do to reduce the risk of being exposed to this virus include: never sharing a toothbrush or razor; avoid body piercing or getting tattoos; never share drug needles with anyone; and do not have unprotected sex.

A vaccine is available. It is required to attend daycare and grades K5 - 12.
The things we can do to reduce the risk of being exposes to this virus include: avoid sharing or re-using needles; avoid sharing toothbrushes, razors or other items that could be contaminated with blood; infected people should not donate blood, plasma, body organs or other tissue or sperm;Cover open sores or breaks in your skin; clean blood spills with a 1 part bleach to 10 parts water solution; limit sex partners; and avoid unprotected sex.

For more information on Hepatitis or any other contagious disease please call the EPI Team at 953-0099. You can also check out these other resources:

Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/hepatitis/index.htm)
Hepatitis Foundation International (www.hepfi.org/)
Hepatitis-Central, Search over 2,000 pages about Hepatitis C (www.hepatitis-central.com/)