Hepatitis & The Different Types of Viral Infections
Did you know that viral hepatitis is a group of liver infections caused by different viruses? It is also characterized by inflammation of the liver. What does the liver do, you ask? The liver is an important organ in our body that is responsible for processing nutrients, filtering the blood, and fighting infections. The liver's function can be impaired when it is inflamed or damaged by heavy alcohol consumption, toxins, certain medications, and specific medical conditions. Hepatitis can also be caused by a viral infection. In the United States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
This type of hepatitis typically lasts a few weeks to a few months.
- It spreads through the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the hepatitis A virus.
- In the last reported year, there were about 19,900 estimated infections in the United States ¹.
- Hepatitis A can be prevented with a safe and effective vaccine.
People should only be tested for hepatitis A if they have symptoms and think they might have been infected.
Hepatitis B can be either acute or chronic.
- It spreads through contact with infected blood, body fluids, or from an infected mother to her newborn during childbirth.
- Many people with chronic hepatitis B remain asymptomatic (have no symptoms) for years, but long-term infection can lead to liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.
- About 14,000 estimated new infections occurred in the last reported year, and around 880,000 adults are living with chronic hepatitis B ¹.
- Vaccination is available and highly recommended for preventing this disease.
All adults aged 18 years and older should be tested for hepatitis B at least once in their lifetime. All pregnant individuals should be tested early in each pregnancy. Anyone with ongoing risk for exposure should be tested periodically, including those who inject or have used injection drugs or who have multiple sex partners.
Hepatitis C is a chronic infection that can lead to severe liver damage, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.
- It is often spread through contact with infected blood, commonly through sharing needles or other drug paraphernalia.
- Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver transplants and liver cancer, but it often remains undiagnosed until it progresses to advanced stages ¹.
- Nearly 40% of people with hepatitis C do not know they are infected ¹.
- About 66,700 estimated new infections occurred in the last reported year, and 2.2 million adults are living with chronic hepatitis C ¹.
- Unlike other forms of hepatitis, there is no vaccine available to prevent it.
- Hepatitis C can often be treated in 8-12 weeks. There is a highly effective medication which renders the virus undetectable in many cases.
All adults aged 18 years and older should be tested for hepatitis C at least once in their lifetime. All pregnant individuals should be tested early in each pregnancy. Anyone with ongoing risk for exposure should be tested periodically, including those who have HIV, have used injection drugs in the past, or have a history of an organ transplant or blood transfusion before July 1992.
Symptoms may not appear or may not appear right away. In some cases of chronic viral hepatitis, symptoms can take decades to develop. Acute hepatitis often takes 2 weeks to 6 months after exposure for symptoms to appear. If symptoms appear, they might include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Light-colored stools
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
For More Information
Hepatitis is a serious condition that can have long-lasting effects on liver health. Understanding the different types of hepatitis and knowing how to prevent infections is important for keeping ourselves and loved ones healthy. Discuss hepatitis testing with your healthcare provider.
For more information about hepatitis, visit the CDC’s website.
¹ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, March 09). What is Viral Hepatitis? U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/abc/index.htm.