Learn the ABCs of Viral Hepatitis
May is Hepatitis Awareness Month. Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are three types of viral hepatitis. Although each type of viral hepatitis is caused by a different virus and is spread in different ways, they all affect the liver and can cause serious health problems.
Featured Topic: Dramatic Increases in Hepatitis C
Hepatitis A is easily prevented with a safe and effective vaccine. In recent years, widespread outbreaks of hepatitis A have been occurring across the United States.
The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants at birth and adults at risk, but many people were infected before the vaccine was widely available.
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Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. People who get hepatitis A may feel sick for a few weeks to several months but usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. The hepatitis A virus is found in the stool and blood of people who are infected and can be spread when someone ingests the virus, usually through eating contaminated food or drink or through close personal contact with an infected person. Hepatitis A is very contagious and people can even spread the virus before they get symptoms. However, hepatitis A is easily prevented with a safe and effective vaccine, which is recommended for all children at one year of age and for adults who may be at risk, including travelers to certain international countries.
Since the hepatitis A vaccine was first recommended in 1996, cases of hepatitis A in the United States have declined dramatically. Unfortunately, adult vaccination rates remain low and in recent years the number of people infected has increased as a result of multiple outbreaks of hepatitis A across the United States. While hepatitis A can affect anyone, certain groups are at greater risk of being infected in these outbreaks. To help stop the outbreaks, CDC recommends the hepatitis A vaccine for people who use drugs (including drugs that are not injected), people experiencing homelessness, men who have sex with men, people with liver disease, and people who are or were recently in jail or prison.
Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus. Some people who become infected, especially young children, can go on to develop a chronic or lifelong infection. Over time, chronic hepatitis B can cause serious liver damage, and even liver cancer. Hepatitis B is common in many parts of the world, including Asia, the Pacific Islands and Africa.
Hepatitis B is preventable with a vaccine. Hepatitis B can be passed from an infected woman to her baby at birth, if her baby does not receive the hepatitis B vaccine. As a result, the hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants at birth and adults at risk. Unfortunately, many people were infected before the hepatitis B vaccine was widely available. That’s why CDC recommends pregnant women, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, household and sexual contacts of someone infected, anyone born or whose parents were born in areas where hepatitis B is common, and others with certain medical conditions get tested for hepatitis B. Treatments are available that can delay or reduce the risk of developing liver cancer.
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. Most people who get infected will develop a chronic, or lifelong, infection. Left untreated, chronic hepatitis C can cause serious health problems including liver disease, liver failure, and even liver cancer. Hepatitis C is usually spread when someone comes into contact with blood from an infected person. In the past, hepatitis C was spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. However, widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1990 and the hepatitis C virus was virtually eliminated from the blood supply by 1992. Today, most people become infected with hepatitis C by sharing needles, syringes, or any other equipment to inject drugs. Rates of new infections have been on the rise, particularly among young adults, which coincides with the recent increase in injection drug use related to the United States’ opioid crisis. While more uncommon, hepatitis C can also spread through healthcare exposures, sex with an infected person, birth to an infected mother, and tattoos and body piercings from unlicensed facilities or informal settings.
People with hepatitis C often have no symptoms so testing is the only way to know if you are infected. CDC now recommends all adults and pregnant women get tested for hepatitis C, in addition to anyone with ongoing risk and certain medical conditions. There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Fortunately, treatments are available that can cure hepatitis C. Once diagnosed, most people with hepatitis C can be cured in just 8 to 12 weeks, reducing liver cancer risk by 75%.