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Viral hepatitis: what you need to know

Viral hepatitis: what you need to know

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), viral hepatitis causes more than 1 million deaths each year. The goal of World Hepatitis Day, acknowledged every year on July 28, is to raise awareness about viral hepatitis—so people can take action and see those numbers decline. In fact, the entire month of July is hepatitis awareness month.

On July 28, join us in the main lobby of University Medical Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to learn more about hepatitis. Getting a better understanding of viral hepatitis can help us turn the tide on viral hepatitis infections.

What is viral hepatitis

The liver works hard for our bodies, handling hundreds of jobs every day. It filters toxins from the blood, produces bile, stores nutrients and much more. Because of all the vital functions the liver performs, it is one of the most important organs in our bodies.

At times, however, the liver can become inflamed and begin to function poorly which can eventually cause the liver to fail. That inflammation is known as hepatitis. While hepatitis can develop after excessive alcohol use, certain medications or medical conditions and toxins, most hepatitis is caused by viruses. This is a real public health concern as the CDC reports almost 100,000 new cases of the most common types of viral hepatitis—hepatitis A, B and C—are diagnosed each year in the U.S.

Understanding common types of viral hepatitis

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A typically causes short-term illness, and most people get better without any complications. However, in rare cases, hepatitis A leads to liver failure.

You or your child can contract hepatitis A by consuming contaminated food or drinks, or by touching a contaminated object and then eating or touching your mouth without washing your hands. Contamination can come from feces or stool, even in microscopic amounts. You can also develop hepatitis A from person-to-person contact through sexual activity or sharing needles with someone who is infected with the virus.

Hepatitis B

While hepatitis B can be mild and short term, as many as 10% of older kids and adults with hepatitis B will develop a chronic, lifelong form of the virus that can cause serious complications such as chronic liver disease.

You can contract hepatitis B by coming in contact with the infected bodily fluids of someone who has hepatitis B. These bodily fluids can be transmitted in numerous ways, including during sex, while sharing needles, medical equipment, toothbrushes or razors, or during birth when the mother is infected.

Hepatitis C

Most people with hepatitis A or B will experience mild, short-term illnesses, but that’s not the case with hepatitis C. According to the CDC, most people with hepatitis C will develop chronic forms of the disease that will impact them for the rest of their lives.

Hepatitis C is spread from person to person via infected blood. Before widespread screening of donated blood or organs began in 1992, it was possible to contract hepatitis C during these procedures. Today, most people get hepatitis C from shared needles or syringes or during birth from an infected mother.

Because of the potential severity of hepatitis C, the CDC recommends a one-time hepatitis C blood test for everyone ages 18 and older, as well as for pregnant women during each pregnancy.

Hepatitis symptoms

It’s not uncommon for people with hepatitis A, B or C to have no symptoms. However, if symptoms do develop, they may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Jaundice (yellowing skin and eyes)
  • Joint pain
  • Vomiting

If you are experiencing symptoms of hepatitis, your healthcare provider may recommend you see a digestive care specialist or infectious disease specialist.

Hepatitis prevention

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent hepatitis. Getting a vaccination is recommended. Vaccines are available that offer protection from hepatitis A and B. Children should receive vaccinations for hepatitis A between ages 12–23 months, and “catch up” vaccinations are available for those ages 2–18. All infants and kids younger than 19 should receive vaccinations for hepatitis B. Adults who have not received the hepatitis A vaccine can receive a three-shot series vaccination that protects from both hepatitis A and B.

If you’re concerned you have been exposed to viral hepatitis, our Infectious Disease Center can help. Call (504) 702-4344 to schedule an appointment.