Hepatitis FAQs

  1. What is hepatitis?
  2. What causes hepatitis?
  3. How is hepatitis passed from one individual to another?
  4. What is my risk of contracting hepatitis?
  5. What is hepatitis A?
  6. What is hepatitis B?
  7. What is hepatitis C?
  8. How does hepatitis damage the liver?
  9. What are the symptoms of hepatitis?
  10. How is hepatitis diagnosed?
  11. How is hepatitis treated?
  12. Can I be infected with several hepatitis viruses at once?
  13. If I have hepatitis, am I at risk of developing liver cancer?
  14. Is there a vaccine for hepatitis?
  15. Can hepatitis be cured?

1. What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver usually caused by one of six known hepatitis viruses: A, B, C, D, E and G. There is both an acute and a chronic form. Acute hepatitis is of shorter duration, lasting a few days to a few weeks. Chronic hepatitis lasts longer, six months to 30 years or more. Acute hepatitis can progress to chronic hepatitis.

2. What causes hepatitis?
Hepatitis is usually caused by one of the six hepatitis viruses: A, B, C, D, E and G. However, it also can be caused by other factors, including excessive alcohol use, a traumatic injury to the liver, certain medications, an immune disorder, other viral infections, and insufficient blood supply to the liver.

3. How is hepatitis passed from one individual to another?
Hepatitis B and C may be passed from an infected individual to another individual through bodily fluids such as blood, and may be transmitted through sharing of needles and through unprotected sex. The virus also may also be passed by sharing razors or toothbrushes, or from anything that causes direct contact with infected blood. It cannot be passed by shaking hands, coughing, sneezing, touching a doorknob, sharing a drinking glass, being in crowds or using public toilets.

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4. What is my risk of contracting hepatitis?
Individuals worldwide are at a significant risk of contacting hepatitis. According to Hepatitis Foundation International, an estimated 350 million people globally have hepatitis B (HBV) and 170 million individuals have hepatitis C (HCV). In the United States one of every 20 individuals will contract the hepatitis B virus in their lifetimes. The hepatitis B virus can remain on dry surfaces for seven days. Individuals are also at risk by participating in risky lifestyle choices, traveling to areas where hepatitis is endemic, not thoroughly washing hands after a bowel movement, and eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the hepatitis A virus.

5. What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is one of six hepatitis viruses that causes inflammation of the liver. This virus is commonly passed through fecal contamination: from food handlers who do not wash their hands thoroughly after a bowel movement; from fecal contamination of food and water; from fecal contamination of a diaper changing area; anal sex; and from eating contaminated (with hepatitis A virus) raw or undercooked shellfish. Adults who contract hepatitis A may suddenly become ill with nausea, vomiting and fever.

6. What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is one of six hepatitis viruses that causes inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B may be caused by many things, including medication, fatty liver and alcohol abuse. Hepatitis B can damage the liver and cause inflammation. Chronic infections can cause permanent liver damage. In acute infections, hepatitis B usually goes away on its own, and treatment may not be needed.

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7. What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is one of six hepatitis viruses that causes inflammation of the liver. Many people are unaware of the disease until they are diagnosed with some liver damage. This can take many years. Many people infected with the virus develop long-term, or chronic, hepatitis C. Chronic hepatitis C causes tiny scars and inflammation in your liver which can lead to cirrhosis. Sometimes with acute infections, patients can fight off hepatitis C on their own without treatment.

8. How does hepatitis damage the liver?
Infection with any one of the hepatitis viruses causes inflammation of the liver, which results in the liver malfunctioning. One of the liver's functions is to filter waste products from the bloodstream. When this process doesn't occur, bilirubin - a waste product in blood from the normal breakdown of red blood cells - backs up in blood and tissues. Symptoms can include jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), itching, fever and nausea.

9. What are the symptoms of hepatitis?
Symptoms when they occur can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Skin rashes
  • Swelling of the ankles
  • Abdominal distention or swelling due to fluid build-up
  • Abdominal pain on the right side of the body where the liver is located
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Dark urine

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10. How is hepatitis diagnosed?
Hepatitis is diagnosed through a blood test. A biopsy (sample) of liver tissue also may be done to determine the extent of liver damage.

11. How is hepatitis treated?
Hepatitis is treated with medications, lifestyle changes and, in cases in which the liver is severely compromised, a liver transplant.

12. Can I be infected with several hepatitis viruses at once?
Yes. If you have hepatitis B, you are at a higher risk of contracting hepatitis D, called the delta virus. Hepatitis D only develops in individuals who already have hepatitis B. If you have hepatitis C you are at a higher risk of contracting hepatitis A and B.

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13. If I have hepatitis, am I at risk of developing liver cancer?
Yes, because individuals with hepatitis are at an increased risk of developing cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, which can lead to liver cancer.

14. Is there a vaccine for hepatitis?
Vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B but not for hepatitis C.

15. Can hepatitis be cured?
To date, there is no cure for hepatitis. The best preventive measure is to take precautions against risky behaviors that can cause an infection.

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