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What to Know About Hepatitis

July 06, 2020

Millions of Americans have some form of hepatitis, and many of them don’t even know they have the condition. Let’s break down some basics about the types of hepatitis and how they affect the liver.

If you’ve ever heard the word hepatitis, you may not even realize that there are multiple types of this condition. While hepatitis means “inflammation of the liver,” it’s not a condition in and of itself.

Instead, what we commonly hear referenced as hepatitis are three different forms of viral hepatitis—hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. In today’s blog, we’re going to break down those conditions and what you should know about them.

The Facts About Hepatitis 
Hepatitis A is the least common form of hepatitis, causing about 6,700 infections each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The smaller number of annual cases is due in large part to the fact that this form of hepatitis is vaccine-preventable. While outbreaks do still occur in the United States, they have become less common as more and more people are vaccinated. Most Americans are now vaccinated for hepatitis A at age 1.

Hepatitis A is spread when a person ingests even a tiny amount of fecal matter from someone else who is infected. This can come through contact with objects, food, or drinks that were somehow contaminated with feces.

A person who is infected with hepatitis A may be sick for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, but in most cases will recover with no lasting damage to the liver. 

The Facts About Hepatitis B
More than 22,000 new cases of hepatitis B are diagnosed in Americans each year, and around 862,000 are currently living with the condition. Like hepatitis A, hepatitis B is also vaccine-preventable, and vaccination is recommended during infancy. 

Hepatitis B is spread through bodily fluids, passing through the transmission of blood and semen from an infected person to someone else. Many people who are affected by the condition do not know they have it, but it can have serious effects.

It can sometimes cause only a mild illness, but it can also be a serious and chronic condition—and a leading risk factor for liver cancer. If you believe you may be at risk of hepatitis B, talk with your doctor about being tested.

Between 15 and 25 percent of patients who have chronic hepatitis B develop some form of chronic liver disease.

What to Know About Hepatitis C
Of the three types of hepatitis we’re discussing, hepatitis C is by far the most common. The CDC estimates that more than 44,000 new infections are diagnosed each year. More than 2 million Americans are living with the condition.

Hepatitis C is spread from the blood of an infected person. While many people who are infected with this type of hepatitis do not know they’re infected and experience only mild symptoms, most people who have hepatitis C end up developing a chronic version of the condition.

Those with chronic hepatitis C are much more likely to develop cirrhosis, a condition affecting the liver—with 5 to 25 percent of all patients developing cirrhosis.

Because there is no vaccine available for this form of hepatitis and the condition can have serious effects, guidelines call for adults to be tested for hepatitis C at least once after age 18 and during every pregnancy for women.

Other Types of Hepatitis
While hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C are the most common forms of the condition, there are two other viral forms. 

Hepatitis D is a liver infection that occurs only in people who are infected with the hepatitis B virus. It can be a short-term infection or become chronic.

Hepatitis E is a liver infection that results when someone ingests the stool of an infected person. This condition is more common in developing countries, where drinking water is often contaminated.

It’s important to note that for all forms of hepatitis we’ve talked about, a person who is infected may not have noticeable symptoms. If a person develops symptoms, they may include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine and jaundice.

Believe you may have hepatitis? Check in with your primary care provider, who can analyze your symptoms and offer next steps.FIND A PROVIDER HERE.