Viral Hepatitis

Viral Hepatitis can be difficult to understand because of the variety of problems and diseases of the liver which are referred to, collectively, as “Hepatitis.”  If someone’s liver has been damaged by medical treatment such as chemotherapy, overuse of some over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen, or by drinking alcohol to excess, they may be said to have “hepatitis.”  The damage to health from these kinds of hepatitis can be severe, and sometimes fatal.  These illnesses cannot be spread to another person (they are not infectious), but they can have symptoms similar to those shared by persons with viral hepatitis. Only viral Hepatitis can spread from one person to another by a variety of means.

There are five types of Hepatitis, but only three predominate in the Untied States:

  1. Hepatitis A
  2. Hepatitis B
  3. Hepatitis C 

If you have been diagnosed with Hepatitis, your health provider will have informed you as to which type of Hepatitis it is and whether you remain infectious or not.  There are important differences between the types of Viral Hepatitis.  In all cases, the liver has been put under stress and should not be put in further danger by drinking alcoholic beverages or taking acetaminophen products (such as Tylenol ).

What is Hepatitis A?

  • Transmitted in the fecal-oral manner
  • One of the reasons that good hand washing by restaurant workers and those handling food is so important
  • Quite common in other countries
  • There are frequent outbreaks in the U. S.
  • Vaccine available, and vaccination is highly recommended for those traveling to less “developed” parts of the world
  • Learn moreopens PDF file

What is Hepatitis B?

  • Transmitted from person to person through shared blood or body fluids
  • Sharing IV drug needles, unsterilized tattoo equipment, and unprotected sex are the principle ways people become infected with Hepatitis B
  • Is 100 times easier to become infected with than HIV
  • Possible for the virus in a smear of blood on an object to remain viable (able to infect someone) for several days
  • 15% of those infected with Hepatitis B become chronically infected
  • Vaccine preventable

What is Hepatitis C?

  • Transmitted from person to person through shared blood
  • Majority of cases are caused by injecting drug use (IVDU)
  • Those with hemophilia, or transfusion recipients are at increased risk due to tainted blood supplies in past decades
  • Vietnam era veterans are at increased risk due to infection spread by pneumatic jet injectors used until 1978 for vaccine administration to recruits
  • Of those infected with Hepatitis C, 85% become chronic carriers of the virus, and are at risk for liver cancer and other problems if the condition is left untreated
  • Risk to sexual partners does not seem to be nearly so great as it is with Hepatitis B
  • No vaccine available

How do I prevent hepatitis?

Hepatitis B and C may be prevented by:

  • sexual abstinence
  • consistent and proper use of condoms
  • use of new “works” if IV drugs are used
  • applied use of “universal precautions” when handling blood or body fluid contaminated items
  • Hepatitis B is vaccine preventable

Hepatitis A may be prevented by:

  • practicing good handwashing when preparing food, after using the restroom, and after changing a child’s diaper
  • The chance of sexual transmission of Hepatitis A via sexual practices in which exposure to fecal contamination can occur, is reduced through the use of latex barriers.
  • Hepatitis A is vaccine preventable

What vaccinations do I need?

  • Hepatitis A – two doses of vaccine, at least 6 months apart
  • Hepatitis B – three doses
  • Hepatitis C – no vaccine
  • Appointments and fees
  • The Hepatitis A / Hepatitis B combination vaccine (Twinrix) is a 3-shot series.

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