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Facts About Hepatitis

Back to 2003 Curriculum. 

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the Hepatitis A virus (HAV). Hepatitis A can affect anyone. In the United States, hepatitis A can occur in situations ranging from isolated cases of disease to widespread epidemics.

Good personal hygiene and proper sanitation can help prevent hepatitis A. Vaccines are also available for long-term prevention of hepatitis A virus infection in persons two years of age and older. Immune globulin is available for short-term prevention of hepatitis A virus infection in individuals of all ages.

Three of every four persons infected with hepatitis A virus have symptoms. When symptoms are present, they usually develop suddenly and may include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, dark urine, and yellowing of the skin and eyeballs. Adults have symptoms more often than children.

A person is most infectious about one week before symptoms appear and during the first week of symptoms. However, an infected person who has no symptoms can still spread the virus. Unlike some other forms of viral hepatitis, hepatitis A causes no long-term damage and is usually not fatal.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. The virus, which is called Hepatitis B virus (HBV), can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death. Hepatitis B vaccine is available for all age groups to prevent hepatitis B virus infection. Hepatitis means swelling.

The hepatitis B virus is in blood, semen, menstrual blood, urine, and fecal matter as well as other body fluids of a person who is infected with the hepatitis B virus. 5- 10% of adults and about 90% of babies who contract hepatitis B will continue to carry the virus for the rest of their lives. Hepatitis B carriers can pass the virus on to others.

The hepatitis B virus is spread by exposure to blood and body fluids of a person infected with the virus. The virus can be spread by sharing needles, sharing snorting straws used by people who snort their drugs, during sex, getting stuck with a dirty needle, or by getting blood or other infected body fluids in the mouth, eyes or onto broken skin. The virus also can be passed from mother to baby, usually at the time of birth. Shaking hands, hugging or sharing food or drink does not spread the virus.

Symptoms to look for include:  

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Tiredness
  • Jaundice (yellowing) of the eyes and/or skin
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Light stool (sometimes white)
  • Aches in muscles and joints

Most children and about half of all adults who get hepatitis B will never feel sick at all - which is called asymptomatic. It will usually require a blood test for these people to verify that they have the HBV virus. It can be as long as two to eight months before the infection will even show up in a blood test. People with hepatitis B will be at a greater risk for cirrhosis and liver cancer later on in life.

Treatment  

People who become symptomatic (ill) with the hepatitis B virus need plenty of rest, fluids and the right diet and nutrition. They will need to avoid alcohol and certain medications. Certain carriers may need medications such as interferon.

Prevention of Hepatitis B  

  • Avoid exposure:
  • Use latex condoms
  • Do not share needles
  • Do not share snorting straws
  • Do not share personal items like toothbrushes, razors, razor blades, fingernail files, or nail clippers
  • Avoid exposure to blood and body fluids

Get vaccinated!  

If you are in close contact with someone with the virus (sex partner, mother-baby contact, sharing needles, living in the same house with a carrier), or if you work in contact with blood, ask about getting the series of shots of the hepatitis B vaccine to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Babies born to mothers with the virus should get the vaccine and a shot called HBIG (hepatitis B immune globulin). Routine hepatitis B vaccination of all newborn babies is now recommended.

Tell certain people and do NOT donate blood! People who are sick with hepatitis B, or who are carriers, should tell their doctors, dentists and people with whom they have sex or share needles or snorting straws. Remember, do NOT donate blood if you have, or ever had hepatitis B, even if you never felt sick.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is found in the blood of persons who have the disease. HCV is spread by contact with the blood of an infected person. You may be at risk for hepatitis C and should contact your medical care provider for a blood test if you:

  • Were notified that you received blood from a donor who later tested positive for hepatitis
  • Have ever injected illegal drugs, even if you experimented a few times many years ago
  • Received a blood transfusion or solid organ transplant before July, 1992
  • Were a recipient of clotting factor(s) made before 1987
  • Have ever been on long-term kidney dialysis

According to Dr. Eugene Schiff (University of Miami) who reviewed the history and impact of hepatitis C, it appears that the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) emerged in the U.S. population beginning in the 1960s, related to blood transfusion and injection drug use. Although the extent of the problem was only apparent after 1990 when reliable blood tests first became available for hepatitis C. Studies of the natural history have been somewhat contradictory but indicate that over the first 20 years of chronic HCV infection, 20% of chronically infected patients will develop cirrhosis, and many of those will progress to hepatocellular carcinoma. HCV-associated end-stage liver disease is now recognized as a leading indication for liver transplantation in the United States and the developed western world.

Currently, there are about 200 million people worldwide who are infected with the hepatitis C virus, 4.9 million of those are in the United States (estimates go as high as 15 million) and 5 million in Western Europe. The CDC (Center For Disease Control) estimates that there are up to 230,000 new hepatitis C infections in the U.S. every year. Currently, 8,000 to 10,000 deaths each year are a result of HCV.

There is no vaccine and no completely effective treatment!