Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The liver is a vital organ, and when it is inflamed or damaged, its function can be affected, including the ability to process nutrients, filter the blood, and fight infections. There are many possible causes of hepatitis, including heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications, certain medical conditions, and a virus. The most common types of viral hepatitis in the US are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
Hepatitis Risk Assessment: To find out whether you are at risk for hepatitis, take this 5-minute risk assessment and get a personalized report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). The virus is most commonly spread by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water, but it can also be spread by close person-to-person contact such as household or sexual contact with an infected person. Hepatitis A is the most common vaccine-preventable disease acquired during travel.
The symptoms of HAV differ from person to person. Some infected individuals may not display any symptoms but still pose a transmission risk to others. Symptoms may include yellow skin or eyes (jaundice), tiredness, stomachache, fatigue, loss of appetite, or nausea.
The hepatitis A vaccine is 94-100 percent effective in preventing the disease. Protection begins approximately two-four weeks after the first injection. A second injection results in long-term protection.
Hepatitis B is a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus can affect people of all ages. Once infected, some people carry the virus their whole lives. This is called “chronic” infection and it can lead to liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death. The virus is found in the blood and body fluids of infected people. It is most often spread among adults through sexual contact, by sharing needles and other drug paraphernalia, or from an HBV-infected mother to her newborn during birth. HBV can also be spread through normal household contact with HBV-infected people.
Some people get sick within the first six months after getting infected. The symptoms of this “acute” hepatitis are loss of appetite, tiredness, stomachache, nausea, and vomiting. These people might also experience yellowing of the whites of the eyes (jaundice) or joint pain. For some people, acute infection leads to chronic infection. People with chronic HBV infection usually do not feel sick for many years, but will have symptoms if they develop the most serious complications from hepatitis B, like cirrhosis or liver cancer. A person infected with the virus can pass it on to others even if he or she does not feel sick or show symptoms.
Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is a blood-borne virus. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness, but 70–85 percent of people who become infected with hepatitis C will have a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C is a serious disease than can result in long-term health problems, even death. The majority of infected persons might not be aware of their infection because they are not clinically ill. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The best way to prevent hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs and sharing needles.
Shareable infographic describing who is at risk for hepatitis B
Vaccination can help protect individuals and contribute to the elimination of this incurable, highly infectious liver disease
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A infection, but hepatitis A vaccine can prevent HAV infection
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