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Illustration of liver positioned in lower right side of human upper body

What is Viral Hepatitis?

The word "hepatitis" means inflammation of the liver.

Hepatitis is most often caused by one of several viruses, which is why it is often called viral hepatitis. In the United States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. In the U.S., there have been significant decreases in Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B over the last several decades, largely due to vaccination programs.

 

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis C

 
What causes it?   Hepatitis A virus   Hepatitis B virus   Hepatitis C virus
 
Number of cases  
  • 21,000 new infections in 2009
 
  • 1.2 million people live with chronic Hepatitis B in the U.S.
  • 38,000 new infections in 2009
 
  • 3.2 million people live with chronic Hepatitis C in the U.S.
  • 16,000 new infections in 2009
 
How long does it last?  

Hepatitis A can last from a few weeks to several months.

 

Hepatitis B can range from a mild illness, lasting a few weeks, to a serious life-long or chronic condition.

 

Hepatitis C can range from a mild illness, lasting a few weeks, to a serious life-long infection. Most people who get the virus develop chronic Hepatitis C infection.

For reasons that are not known, 15%–25% of people “clear” or get rid of the virus without treatment.

 
How is it spread?  

Hepatitis A is spread when a person ingests fecal matter—even in microscopic amounts—from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by feces or stool from an infected person.

Travel to certain international counties is the biggest risk factor for Hepatitis A transmission. Contamination of food or water with Hepatitis A most often occurs in countries where Hepatitis A is common, especially if personal hygiene or sanitary conditions are poor.  In the U.S., outbreaks of Hepatitis A still occur occasionally from contact with an infected person or eating contaminated food. Contamination of food can happen at any point: growing, harvesting, processing, handling, and even after cooking.
 

Hepatitis B is primarily spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone who is not infected.

Most people with chronic Hepatitis B were infected with the virus at birth or during early childhood and developed a lifelong chronic infection.

The Hepatitis B virus can also be transmitted from:

  • Sex with an infected person
  • Sharing equipment that has been contaminated with blood from an infected person, such as needles, syringes, and even medical equipment, such as glucose monitors
  • Sharing personal items such as toothbrushes or razors
  • Poor infection control which has resulted in some outbreaks in outpatient health care and residential care facilities
 

Hepatitis C is spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected.

This can happen through multiple ways including:

  • Contact with blood from an infected person (even in microscopic amounts)
  • Receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992 (when the widespread screening of blood began)
  • Sharing equipment that has been contaminated with blood from an infected person, such as needles and syringes
  • Poor infection control which has resulted in outbreaks in some outpatient health care and residential care facilities
 
Who should be vaccinated?  
  • All children at age 1
  • Travelers to regions where Hepatitis A is common
  • Family and caregivers of recent adoptees from countries where Hepatitis A is common
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Users of certain recreation  drugs, whether injected or not  
  • Persons with certain medical conditions including chronic liver disease, clotting-factor disorders
 
  • All infants at birth
  • Unvaccinated adults with diabetes
  • Uninfected household members and sexual partners with Hepatitis B
  • Persons with multiple sex partners
  • Persons seeking evaluation or treatment for an STD
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Injection drug users
  • Persons with certain medical conditions, including HIV, chronic liver disease
  • Travelers to regions where Hepatitis B is common
 

There is no vaccine available for Hepatitis C.

 
Vaccination Schedule   2 doses given 6 months apart  
  • Infants and Children: 3 to 4 doses given over a 6 to 18 month period
  • Adults: 3 doses given over a 6 month period
  There is no vaccine available for Hepatitis C.
 
How serious is it?  
  • People can be sick for a few weeks to a few months
  • Most recover with no lasting liver damage
  • Although rare, death can occur
 
  • The risk for chronic infection varies according to the age when first infected. When infected as an infant, 90% will develop a chronic
 
  • 75%-85% of people with Hepatitis C develop a chronic  infection
  • 5%-20% of people with chronic Hepatitis C develop cirrhosis
 
Treatment for Chronic infection  

Not applicable

  Regular monitoring for signs of liver disease progression; some patients are treated with antiviral drugs   Regular monitoring for signs of liver disease progression; some patients are treated with antiviral drugs
 
Who should be tested?  

Testing for Hepatitis A is not routinely recommended.

 

 
  • Persons born in regions with moderate or high rates of Hepatitis B
  • U.S.–born persons not vaccinated as infants whose parents were born in regions with high rates of Hepatitis B
  • Household, needle-sharing, or sex contacts of anyone with Hepatitis B
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Injection drug users
  • Patients with abnormal liver tests
  • Hemodialysis patients
  • Persons needing immunosuppressive or cytotoxic therapy
  • HIV-infected persons
  • All pregnant women
 
  • Persons born during
    1945-1965
  • Recipients of clotting factor concentrates before 1987
  • Recipients of blood transfusions or donated organs before July 1992
  • Persons who have injected drugs
  • Long-term hemodialysis patients
  • Persons with known exposures to Hepatitis C (e.g., healthcare workers after needlesticks, recipients of blood or organs from a donor who later tested positive for Hepatitis C)
  • HIV-infected persons
  • Patients with signs or symptoms of liver disease
 
Symptoms:  

Many people with hepatitis do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected. If symptoms occur with an acute infection, they can appear anytime from 2 weeks to 6 months after exposure. Symptoms of chronic viral Hepatitis can take decades to develop.

Symptoms for both acute and chronic Hepatitis can include:  Fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, grey-colored stools, joint pain, and jaundice.
 

Important facts

 
  • There have been dramatic decreases of Hepatitis A in the U.S. over the last 20 years  largely due to vaccination efforts
  • Outbreaks still occur in the U.S.
  • The Hepatitis A virus is common in many countries, especially those without modern sanitation
 
  • Approximately 350 million people worldwide have Hepatitis B
  • An estimated two-thirds  of people with Hepatitis B do not know they are infected
  • 1 in 12 Asian-Americans has chronic Hepatitis B
 
  • Up to three-fourths of people do not know they are infected
  • Of people with chronic Hepatitis C,  3 out of 4 are born from 1945-1965
  • Hepatitis C is as common among African Americans as whites
 
Looking for more detailed information?  


Hepatitis A

 


Hepatitis B

 


Hepatitis C


 
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