Learn the ABCs of Viral Hepatitis
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, can go on to develop a chronic or lifelong infection. Over time, chronic hepatitis B can cause serious liver damage, and even liver cancer. There is no cure for hepatitis B, but treatments are available that can delay or reduce the risk of developing liver cancer.
Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluids from a person infected with the virus enters the body of someone who is not infected or has not been vaccinated. This can happen through sexual contact; sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment; or from mother to baby at birth.
Hepatitis B can be prevented with a safe and effective vaccine. CDC recommends all adults through age 59 and adults age 60 or older with risk factors get vaccinated. If you are age 60 or older and do not have risk factors, you may choose to get vaccinated.
Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness, but for more than half of people who become infected with the hepatitis C virus, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection that can lead to liver disease and liver cancer.
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 health care 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 recommends all adults get tested at least once in their life and pregnant women get tested during each pregnancy. In addition, anyone with ongoing risk and certain medical conditions should get tested. There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. But treatments are available that can cure hepatitis C. Most people with hepatitis C can be cured in just 8 to 12 weeks. Testing is the first step.