Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are contagious liver diseases that can result in a serious, chronic, lifelong illness due to the virus attacking the liver.
What is Hepatitis?
So, what is hepatitis? Simply put, it’s an inflammation of the liver. When the liver is inflamed or becomes damaged, it does not function well. A person may contract hepatitis after heavy alcohol use, toxins or some medications, and even some medical conditions. Most often, however, it is caused by a virus.
The Difference Between Hepatitis A, B, and C
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these three types of hepatitis are liver infections caused by three different viruses. Each type may cause similar symptoms, they are spread in different ways, and each impacts the liver differently.
- Hepatitis A is usually a short-term infection and does not become chronic.
- Hepatitis B and hepatitis C can also begin as short-term, acute infections. But for some people, the virus stays in the body, causing chronic disease. Currently, there are vaccines for hepatitis A and B, but not for hepatitis C.
If you contract hepatitis A, you may feel sick for a few weeks or even a few months. But most people usually recover and do not have long-lasting liver damage. Sometimes, however, people with hepatitis A can have liver failure, but that tends to occur in older people with serious health issues. Hepatitis A is very contagious. People can spread the virus to others before they even feel sick. Hepatitis B can also be a short-term illness. Some people may suffer long-term, chronic infection from hepatitis B, leading to life-threatening health issues. For more than half of the people infected with hepatitis C, the virus becomes a long-term, chronic issue. It can mean life-threatening problems such as liver cancer and cirrhosis.
How is hepatitis spread?
If you want to protect yourself from possible hepatitis infection, it helps to know how the virus spreads. For hepatitis A, the virus is transmitted via the stool or blood of infected people. It may spread when someone ingests the virus – even in amounts too small to be seen.
For instance, hepatitis A can spread from personal contact with an infected person, particularly during sexual contact. If you care for someone who is ill or use drugs with others, you are at a higher risk.
Hepatitis B is spread from person to person when blood, semen, or other infected body fluid enters the body of an uninfected person. This can occur from birth, sex with an infected partner, sharing needles or syringes, sharing toothbrushes or razors, or direct contact with bloody, open sores of an infected person. Hepatitis B is not spread through food or water, sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, hand-holding, coughing, or sneezing.
Hepatitis C spread is similar to hepatitis B.
Who is at risk?
For hepatitis A, those at higher risk include international travelers; men who have sex with men; people who use or inject drugs; people with occupational risk for exposure, and homelessness. For hepatitis B, those at risk include infants born to infected mothers; people who inject drugs or share needles; sex partners of people with hepatitis B; men who have sex with men, and healthcare and public-safety workers exposed to blood on the job. Those at risk for hepatitis C include people who use injection drugs or did so in the past; people with HIV infection; people who have received transfusions or organ transplants; healthcare, emergency medical, and public safety personnel who have been exposed to the blood of someone who has hepatitis C and children born to mothers who has hepatitis C.
Hepatitis Symptoms and Treatment
Not everyone who has hepatitis A exhibits symptoms. Usually, symptoms appear 2 to 7 weeks after a person is infected. Symptoms may last less than two months. If symptoms develop, you may get yellow skin or eyes, lack of appetite; nausea; fever; dark urine; joint pain, and fatigue. For hepatitis B, symptoms usually start about three months after exposure and may last several weeks. The symptoms are similar to those of hepatitis A. Hepatitis C symptoms can occur between 2-12 weeks after exposure. Symptoms also include yellow skin or eyes, lack of appetite, nausea, and fatigue.
If you contract hepatitis A or B, doctors will recommend:
- Good nutrition
If you have hepatitis C, doctors will recommend:
- Two to three months of oral therapy (pills)
The best way to prevent contracting hepatitis A or B is to get a vaccination and practice good hand hygiene. There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C.
If you are concerned about your risk of contracting hepatitis, speak to your primary care provider. Lompoc Health has an extensive list of providers available to answer your questions and assist you with receiving treatment.