VIRAL HEPATITIS

VIRAL HEPATITIS…

  • Is an inflammation (swelling) of the liver.
  • Is a viral disease.
  • Causes mild illness that lasts less than 6 months. However, this mild illness can develop into a serious, long-term infection.
  • Comes in several different types, the three most common are: Hepatitis A (HAV), Hepatitis B (HBV) and Hepatitis C (HCV) which are considered STDs. Having one kind of viral hepatitis does not mean a person will automatically have other types; and it also doesn’t mean this person can’t get them, either.

HOW DOES VIRAL HEPATITIS SPREAD?

Hepatitis A (HAV): This type of hepatitis is primarily passed by what’s called fecal-oral contact. Fecal-oral spread happens when a person gets something in their mouth that is contaminated with feces (poop), even in tiny amounts. This can happen during or after some forms of sexual activity or it can happen when a person doesn’t properly wash his or her hands after going to the bathroom or changing a diaper and then touches objects or food, which another person then touches and gets infected. In rare cases, the virus can also spread by exposure to infected blood.

Hepatitis B (HBV): This type of hepatitis is passed when a person has contact with infected blood, semen, vaginal fluids or other body fluids.  Risky behavior, such as having unprotected sex with someone who is infected or who uses injection drugs could also put you at risk. Pregnant women can pass the infection to their baby during the birth process or when breast feeding if the woman’s nipples are cracked or bleeding.

Hepatitis C (HCV): This type of hepatitis is passed by contact with infected blood. Passing HCV typically happens when sharing infected needles or IV drug equipment or when sex partners have unprotected sex and at least one of the partners has a condition or infection that makes blood-to-blood contact more likely. HCV can also be passed by pregnant women to their baby during pregnancy and during birth. Sexual spread of HCV is not common.

* Regardless of the different ways hepatitis infections can be passed, the fact that many people have mild or no symptoms makes it more likely that people who are infected won’t know they have the virus, so they will keep passing the virus to others.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF VIRAL HEPATITIS?

Many men and women who have one of the three types of viral hepatitis listed above, will not have symptoms soon after they get the virus.

When they do get symptoms though, they can range from being mild to more severe and can last for a couple of weeks up to six months. Many might find the symptoms are like the flu: fever, tiredness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, joint pain. Symptoms that are different might include jaundice (yellow eyes or skin), dark urine (pee), stomach pain, or pale, clay-colored poop.

Although the symptoms are similar for each type of viral hepatitis, the following gives more information about these differences between HAV, HBV and HCV.

HOW DO YOU GET TESTED FOR VIRAL HEPATITIS?

With all three types of viral hepatitis, a healthcare provider can take a sample of blood that can tell a variety of different things, including if virus is currently present, if there are antibodies (which means your body has provided a defense to the virus), or if the virus has developed into a chronic (long-term) infection.

CAN YOU BE TREATED FOR VIRAL HEPATITIS?

Some people will naturally fight off an infection on their own, and will then be protected from getting the same type of viral hepatitis again. However, a new infection can make some people very sick.


During a new infection people need plenty of rest, a healthy diet and plenty of fluids. It may take several months, but these simple things can make a person’s immune system able to fight the virus and no medication will be needed. Depending on the type of hepatitis and how sick it makes a person, a healthcare provider may prescribe medication.  If medication is needed, your healthcare provider will tell you what type.

Do not try to treat the infection without medical supervision and talk to your healthcare provider about any medication or supplements you are taking or intend to take since some prescription pills, supplements or over-the-counter medications may damage your liver.

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON’T GET TREATMENT?

In almost all cases, the body will heal itself from a HAV or an initial HBV infection. In some cases, the body can heal itself from an initial HCV infection, but it’s necessary to see a healthcare provider regularly to monitor the healing progress. Not following the recommendations about rest, nutrition and fluid intake makes your body work harder and makes it more difficult for your body to fight off the infection.

Because HBV and HCV can develop into chronic infections, life-threatening complications can happen from not following the recommendations of a healthcare provider. These can include: development of a chronic infection, being at higher risk for liver disease, cirrhosis, liver failure and possibly death.

WHAT IF YOU’RE DIAGNOSED WITH VIRAL HEPATITIS?

Most importantly, follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations.  Next, protect your body and liver from further damage by doing the following:

  • Get vaccinated against HAV and HBV if you haven’t already;
  • Avoid actions which can spread the infection to others and make it more likely to catch other STDs, including HIV. This includes unprotected sex, sharing needles, IV drug equipment, and common household items such as toothbrushes and razors;
  • Get tested for other STDs.  Your body is more likely to get other diseases when it’s already fighting off an infection;
  • Tell your sex partner(s) when you are newly diagnosed with viral hepatitis. Partners should get tested to find out if the infection has been passed to them.  If exposed, partners may be able to get medications called immune globulins that can prevent illness.

IS VIRAL HEPATITIS PREVENTABLE?

HAV and HBV are best prevented when a person has been vaccinated before exposure to the virus.  Both vaccines are safe and effective, though it’s important to know that getting one type of hepatitis vaccine doesn’t protect you from other types of hepatitis.

Currently, only HAV and HBV are vaccine preventable and you must receive both vaccines in order to be protected against both types. For information on the Viral Hepatitis vaccines available, visit the vaccines page.

In addition to vaccines, there are other ways to prevent getting or spreading HAV, HBV, and HCV, including:
  • Abstain from sexual activity or only have sex when you’re in a mutually monogamous relationship;
  • Use latex or polyurethane condoms correctly every time you have sex. For more information about correct use of condoms, watch a video on correct condom use;
  • Do not share needles or other IV drug equipment;
  • Do not share common items you might find in your house, including toothbrushes and razors;
  • Use good hygiene. Always wash your hands after using the toilet or changing a diaper, especially if you are about to handle food.


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