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Learn About Hepatitis

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Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver (the largest organ in the body that has many important functions like changing food into energy and cleaning alcohol and poisons from the blood) that sometimes causes permanent damage. Viruses, bacteria, certain medications or alcohol can cause hepatitis. It also may be caused by certain diseases, such as autoimmune diseases, metabolic diseases and congenital (present at birth) abnormalities, such as biliary atresia and Wilson disease. Generally, symptoms of hepatitis include fever, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) and an enlarged liver. There are several types of hepatitis.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A (HAV) is a highly contagious and sometimes serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. Once called infectious hepatitis, today it is more commonly known as hepatitis A. It is the least serious form of the disease and is contracted by eating food or drinking water contaminated with human excrement; touching an infected person's feces, which may occur with poor hand washing (outbreaks may occur in large child-care centers, especially when there are children in diapers); or sexual contact with an infected person. Hepatitis A does not result in chronic infection, but complete recovery from hepatitis A can be slow. In adult patients with hepatitis A, the illness may last for at least one month, with recovery taking up to six months. Hepatitis A rates in the United States have declined by 92 percent since the vaccine for hepatitis A became available in 1995.

The CDC recommends the hepatitis A vaccine for the following groups who are at risk for the infection, as well as for anyone who wants to have the vaccine:

  • People traveling to or working in countries that have high or intermediate rates of hepatitis A
  • All children 12 months of age
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Illegal drug users
  • People at occupational risk for the disease
  • People with chronic liver disease
  • People with clotting-factor disorders such as hemophilia

 

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B (HBV) is a serious and sometimes fatal liver disease that is caused by the hepatitis B virus. It can be spread through unprotected sex and contact with infected blood or body fluids, such as semen, vaginal secretions or saliva. Sharing needle sticks, sharp instruments, razors and toothbrushes or having sex with an infected person are the primary modes of transmission. Infants also may develop the disease if they are born to a mother who has the virus. Infected children often spread the virus to other children if there is frequent contact or a child has many scrapes or cuts.

Hepatitis B may produce severe, sometimes fatal, attacks characterized by jaundice and fatigue that can last for weeks. It also causes long-term liver damage, including cirrhosis and cancer.

One out of 20 people in the United States will develop hepatitis B at some time during their lives. A vaccine for the prevention of hepatitis B is available. Given in three shots over a period of time, the vaccine is suggested for everyone age 18 years and younger, as well as for adults over age 18 who are at risk for the infection.

The following groups are at risk for developing hepatitis B:

  • Children born to mothers who have hepatitis B (the illness may present up to five years after the child is born)
  • Children who are born to mothers who have immigrated from a country where hepatitis B is widespread, such as southeast Asia and China
  • People who live in long-term care facilities or who are disabled
  • People who live in households where another member is infected with the virus
  • People who have a blood-clotting disorder, such as hemophilia
  • People who require dialysis for kidney failure
  • People who may participate in high-risk activities, such as intravenous (IV) drug use and/or unprotected heterosexual or homosexual sexual contact
  • People who have a job that involves contact with human blood
  • People who received blood transfusions or blood products before the early 1990s

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C (HCV) is a serious and sometimes fatal liver disease that is caused by the hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C is primarily transmitted from contact with infected blood, but also can occur from sexual contact or from an infected mother to her baby. Blood transfusions prior to 1992 and the use of shared needles are other significant causes of the spread of hepatitis C. The condition, which often produces no symptoms for decades, can destroy the liver, causing cirrhosis and liver cancer.

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. People who are at risk should be checked regularly for hepatitis C.

The following groups may be at risk for contracting hepatitis C:

  • Children born to mothers who are infected with the virus
  • People who have a blood-clotting disorder such as hemophilia and received clotting factors before 1987
  • People who require dialysis for kidney failure
  • People who received a blood transfusion before 1992
  • People who may participate in high-risk activities, such as intravenous (IV) drug use and/or unprotected heterosexual or homosexual sexual contact

People who have hepatitis C should be monitored closely for signs of chronic hepatitis and liver failure. New treatments may cure up to 50 percent of those infected.

 

Need Help?

Call 888-402-LVHN (5846) Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Chat Online

Walk-In Care

If you have a minor illness, you can walk into an ExpressCare or schedule a video visit. For allergies, ear infections, cold and flu symptoms, rash and sprains.

Find an ExpressCARE Schedule a video visit

Schedule Online

Book the next available "new patient" appointment with the click of a button.

Schedule Now

How You Can Help Our Mission How You Can Help Our Mission

This is a non-profit organization. Please consider donating to help heal, comfort and care.

Learn more »