Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men have a higher chance of getting viral hepatitis including Hepatitis A, B, and C, which are diseases that affect the liver. About 10% of new Hepatitis A and 20% of all new Hepatitis B infections in the United States are among gay and bisexual men. Many men have not been vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B, even though a safe and effective vaccine is available. Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men also have a higher chance of getting Hepatitis C if they are involved in high-risk behaviors, such as injection drug use and other activities that result in blood sharing. While there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, there are new, effective treatments.
Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person accidentally swallows fecal matter (stool)—even in really small amounts—that has the Hepatitis A virus in it. The virus can be spread through contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces, or stool, of a person who has the virus. Among gay and bisexual men, Hepatitis A can be spread through sexual activity or contact with fingers or objects that have the virus on it.
Hepatitis B is spread when body fluids—such as semen (cum) or blood—from a person who has Hepatitis B enter the body of someone who does not have it. The Hepatitis B virus is very infectious and is easily spread during sexual activity. Hepatitis B also can be spread through sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment used to inject drugs. It can also be spread during pregnancy from an infected mother to her unborn child.
Hepatitis C is spread through contact with the blood of someone who has Hepatitis C, mainly through sharing needles, syringes, or other injection drug equipment. Hepatitis C can also be spread when getting tattoos and body piercings in casual places or with non-sterile instruments. Although uncommon, Hepatitis C can also be spread through sexual contact. Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or HIV, sex with multiple partners, or rough sex can raise a person’s chance of getting Hepatitis C.
The symptoms of viral hepatitis vary depending upon a person’s age and which type of hepatitis infection it is. There is also a difference between acute and chronic viral hepatitis. For acute hepatitis, symptoms, if they appear, will occur within several weeks to several months of exposure. Symptoms of chronic viral hepatitis can take decades to develop and people can live with an infection for years and not feel sick. When symptoms do appear with chronic hepatitis, it can be a sign of advanced liver disease. Symptoms for both acute and chronic viral hepatitis can include: fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, gray-colored stools, joint pain, and jaundice.
Hepatitis A and B can be prevented through vaccinations. Experts recommend that all gay and bisexual men be vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B. The Hepatitis A and B vaccines can be given separately or as a combination vaccine. The vaccines are safe, effective, and require 2-3 shots within a six month period depending on the type of vaccine. A person should complete all shots in the series for long-term protection. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C.