Hepatitis Facts

By

VanStee, Amy

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Talking With Your Doctor About Hepatitis C Treatment

When you first learn you have hepatitis C, you may have lots of questions about what comes next.
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Liver Damage

Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver, resulting in liver cell damage and destruction. It can be due to an infection or it can be noninfectious.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the U.S., an estimated 850,000 to 2.2 million people have hepatitis B infections. And 2.7 to 3.9 million have chronic hepatitis C infections. Infection by either Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C virus is a leading cause of liver cancer.

Types of Viral Hepatitis

Six main types of the hepatitis virus have been identified:

Hepatitis A: This type is usually spread by fecal-oral contact or fecal-infected food and water. Outbreaks may occur in large childcare centers. The virus can also be transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person. A vaccine is available.

Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B can be mild and without symptoms, but it can also lead to full-blown liver failure and death. The virus is transmitted through exposure to body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or saliva. Needle sticks, sharp instruments, shared items such as toothbrushes, and sex with an infected person are primary modes of transmission. Infants may develop the disease if they are born to a mother who has it.

Hepatitis B Risk Factors

People at risk for developing hepatitis B include those who:

  • Live in long-term care facilities or are disabled

  • Have a blood clotting disorder

  • Require dialysis

  • Participate in high-risk activities such as intravenous drug use or unprotected heterosexual or homosexual sexual contact

  • Have a job that involves contact with human blood

A vaccine for hepatitis B is widely used for childhood immunization.
Hepatitis C: Symptoms are usually mild and gradual. Transmission occurs primarily from infected blood, but it can also occur from sexual contact or from an infected mother to her baby. In addition, people with alcoholic liver disease tend to develop hepatitis C. The virus usually leads to chronic liver disease.

Hepatitis C Risk Factors

People at risk for developing hepatitis C include those who:

  • Have a blood clotting disorder

  • Require dialysis

  • Received a blood transfusion before 1992

  • Participate in high-risk activities such as intravenous drug use or unprotected heterosexual or homosexual sexual contact (although infection through sexual contact has become less common) 

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, however, new antiviral medications can cure many Hepatitis C infections.

Hepatitis D-G: Other types of hepatitis include hepatitis D, which can occur only in the presence of hepatitis B and can increase the risk for liver failure; hepatitis E, which occurs through fecal-oral contamination and is rarely seen in the U.S.; and hepatitis G, which is believed to be transmitted through blood.

Hepatitis is categorized in two groups: acute and chronic. Acute hepatitis is quite common in the U.S. Its causes include infection with viral hepatitis A, B, C, D, or E; overdose of drugs such as acetaminophen; and chemical exposure.

Acute Hepatitis

Acute hepatitis may be diagnosed through lab tests and liver function tests. Treatment varies depending on whether the hepatitis is viral or nonviral. Severe, acute hepatitis may require hospitalization.

Chronic Hepatitis

Some people don’t recover fully from acute hepatitis and develop chronic hepatitis, as the liver continues to sustain more damage. Hepatitis is considered chronic if symptoms persist longer than six months. Chronic hepatitis can last years and increases an individual's risk for developing liver cancer. Proper precautions must be taken to prevent the spread of the disease.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 3, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Fibromyalgia. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/fibromyalgia.html
  2. Hepatitis B FAQs for the Public. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hbv/bfaq.htm
  3. Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm

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