What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis (“Hepa”= liver + “itis”=inflammation) is inflammation of the liver tissue.

Some people have no symptoms whereas others develop yellow discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes, poor appetite, vomiting, tiredness, abdominal pain, or diarrhea.

Hepatitis may be temporary (acute) or long term (chronic) depending on whether it lasts for less than or more than six months.

Acute hepatitis can sometimes resolve on its own, progress to chronic hepatitis, or rarely result in acute liver failure. Over time the chronic form may progress to scarring of the liver, liver failure, or liver cancer.

The most common cause worldwide is viruses. Other causes include heavy alcohol use, certain medications, toxins, other infections, autoimmune diseases, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

NHAAD’s campaign will focus on viral hepatitis. There are five main types of viral hepatitis: type A, B, C, D, and E.

Viral Hepatitis

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable, communicable disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). 

It is usually transmitted person-to-person by the fecal-oral route or through consumption of contaminated food or water. 

Hepatitis A is a self-limited disease that does not result in chronic infection. Most adults with hepatitis A have symptoms, including fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice, that usually resolve within 2 months of infection; most children less than 6 years of age do not have symptoms or have an unrecognized infection. 

Antibodies produced in response to HAV infection last for life and protect against reinfection. The best way to prevent HAV infection is to get vaccinated.

Who is at increased risk for acquiring hepatitis A virus (HAV) infection?

  • Persons with direct contact with persons who have hepatitis A
  • Travelers to countries where HAV infection is endemic
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • Persons who use drugs
  • Persons with clotting factor disorders
  • Persons working with nonhuman primates

Symptoms of Hepatitis A:

Some people contract Hepatitis A and have no symptoms of the disease. However, for those who do experience symptoms, they generally last less than two months, and may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fever, fatigue, and jaundice.

Hepatitis A does not lead to chronic infection.

People who are infected with Hepatitis A will eventually clear the virus from their bodies.

How can a person prevent Hepatitis A infection?

The best way to prevent Hepatitis A is to be vaccinated with the full two dose series of hepatitis A Vaccine.

The CDC recommends that all children at 1 year of age and high risk persons of any age get vaccinated for Hepatitis A.

Other prevention methods include practicing good hygiene, including washing hands after using the bathroom and changing diapers, and before preparing food.

For more information on Hepatitis A, and find out if you are at risk for Hepatitis A, visit the CDC’s Hepatitis A page

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). 

For some people, hepatitis B is a short-term illness, but for others, it can become a long-term, chronic infection. 

Risk for chronic infection is related to age at infection: approximately 90% of infected infants become chronically infected, compared with 2%–6% of adults.

Chronic hepatitis B can lead to serious health issues, like cirrhosis or liver cancer. The best way to prevent hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated.

How common is hepatitis B in the US?

The CDC estimates that In 2016, an estimated 862,000 people were living with HBV infection in the U.S. and approximately 22,200 acute hepatitis B cases occurred in 2017.

How is Hepatitis B Transmitted?

HBV is transmitted when blood, semen, or another body fluid from a person infected with virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact; sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment; or from mother to baby at birth. 

Who is at high risk of contracting Hepatitis B?

  • Infants born to HVB-infected mothers
  • Sex partners of HBV-infected persons
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • People who injects drugs
  • Health care and public safety workers at risk for occupational exposure to blood or blood contaminated body fluids.
  • Hemodialysis patients

Hepatitis B is common in many parts of the world, including Asia, the Pacific Islands and Africa. Unfortunately many people got infected before the Hepatitis B vaccine was widely available. That is why CDC recommends anyone born in areas where Hepatitis B is common, or whose parents were born in these regions, get tested for Hepatitis B.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B?

Symptoms of Hepatitis B vary. Children 5 years and under and newly infected immunosuppressed adults often show no symptoms, while 30 to 50 percent of infected persons ages 5 or older show initial symptoms, including: fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowl movements, and jaundice.

Most people with chronic HBV infection are asymptomatic and have no evidence of liver disease or injury. However, some people develop chronic hepatitis (elevation of AST/ALT), cirrhosis, or hepatocellular carcinoma (i.e., primary liver cancer).

How does a person prevent Hepatitis B infection?

The best way to prevent Hepatitis B infection is to be vaccinated. The CDC recommends that all children and high risk adults get vaccinated for Hepatitis B.

Other prevention methods include using sterile tools for body piercing, avoid sharing needles, and using condoms.

How is Hepatitis B treated?

There is no medication available for acute Hepatitis B infection.

There are several antiviral medications available for people with chronic infection.

How do Health care providers test for Hepatitis B?

Testing for Hepatitis B involves the measurements of several Hepatitis B virus (HVB)-specific antigens and antibodies. Different serologic “markers” or combinations of markers are used to identify different phases of HBV infection and to determine whether a patient has acute or chronic HBV infection, is immune to HBV due to prior infection or vaccination, or is susceptible to infection.

For more information on Hepatitis B, and to find out if you are at risk for Hepatitis B, visit CDC’s Hepatitis B page

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus. 

For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness but for more than 50% of people who become infected with the hepatitis C virus, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection.

The CDC estimates that approximately 20 percent of people can get rid of Hepatitis C virus within the first six months following infection without seeking treatment. However, most individuals infected with Hepatitis C go on to develop chronic infection, which is a serious disease than can result in long-term health problems, even death. 

Many people 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.

People born from 1945 to 1965, or baby boomers are five times more likely to have Hepatitis C. Unfortunately the reason why baby boomers have higher rates of Hepatitis C is not completely understood. Most baby boomers are believed to have become infected in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s when transmission of Hepatitis C was the highest.

How common is Hepatitis C in the U.S.?

The CDC estimates that 2.4 million people in the United States are living with hepatitis C virus infection, and approximately an estimated 44,700 acute hepatitis C cases occur each year.

Rates of new infections have been on the rise in young people who inject drugs in recent years.

How is Hepatitis C Transmitted?

Today, most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. 

Also, mothers who are infected with Hepatitis C can transmit the infection to their newborn infants.

Hepatitis C can also be transmitted through sex, but it is rare. Before 1992, when blood supplies were not universally screened for HCV, hepatitis C was also spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis C?

When present, Hepatitis C symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, grey colored stools, and jaundice.

How is Hepatitis C treated?

There are highly effective treatment options that cure more than 90 percent of people with chronic Hepatitis C. A cure is confirmed after a blood test given 3 months after treatment is completed indicates that the virus is no longer detected in the blood.

How does a person know if they have Hepatitis C?

Getting tested is the only way to know if you have Hepatitis C.

The CDC recommends Hepatitis C testing for persons who are in any of the following groups:

  • Born between 1945 and 1965 (Baby boomers)
  • Received blood transfusion or organ donation prior to 1992
  • Have ever injected drugs
  • Living with certain medical conditions, such as HIV infection
  • Have abnormal liver tests or liver disease
  • Born to a mother infected with Hepatitis C

Why is testing for Hepatitis C important?

  • Many people don’t have symptoms when they are first infected with Hepatitis C
  • A large proportion (about 8 in 10) of people who do get infected with Hepatitis C will go on to develop chronic Hepatitis C
  • Most people who have chronic Hepatitis C don’t know they have it until they get sick years alter or decades later.
  • 5 to 20 percent of people with chronic Hepatitis C infection develop cirrhosis over a period of 20-30 years.
  • 1 to 5 percent of people with a chronic infection die from cirrhosis or liver cancer.
  • When people with chronic Hepatitis C do get sick, most get severe liver disease
  • Chronic Hepatitis C is the primary reason for liver transplants
  • There are now medicines that can cure someone living with chronic Hepatitis C infection.

How do health care providers test for Hepatitis C?

There are several blood tests used to detect Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) infection.

For the HCV antibody test, a positive result means that HCV antibodies were detected in the blood. Once a person has been infected with HCV, the antibodies will stay in the blood system even if the virus is no longer present.

Because of this, another test that looks for the presence of the HCV itself in the blood is used – the HCV RNA test. A person who has both positive HCV antibody test and a positive HCV RNA test is infected with Hepatitis C.

For more information on hepatitis C, and to find out if you are at risk for Hepatitis C, visit the CDC’s hepatitis C page