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About Viral Hepatitis

  • What is Hepatitis?
    • Hepatitis is a general term that means “inflammation of the liver.”  Many factors can cause hepatitis, including toxins, drugs, excessive alcohol consumption, infection by bacteria, viruses and parasites, and autoimmunity (when your immune system attacks your own liver).  Viral hepatitis is inflammation of the liver caused by a virus.  To date, five viruses known to target the liver have been identified:  hepatitis A virus (HAV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), hepatitis D virus (HDV) and hepatitis E virus (HEV).  In the United States and in North Dakota, HAV, HBV and HCV are the most common types.
  • Is Viral Hepatitis Serious?
    • Yes!  Infection with HAV can cause serious illness for several months and can cause death in people who already have liver damage.  HBV and HCV can lead to lifelong infection.  Over time, infection with HBV and HCV can cause permanent liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) and death.
  • What are the symptoms of viral hepatitis?
    • The symptoms of newly acquired (acute) hepatitis A, B and C are very similar.  Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children.  If symptoms do occur, they might include the following:
      • tiredness
      • loss of appetite
      • nausea
      • vomiting
      • abdominal discomfort
      • dark urine
      • jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • How are the viruses spread?
    • Hepatitis A virus is spread from person to person by putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool (feces) of an infected person.
    • Hepatitis B virus is spread when blood or body fluids from an infected person enter the body of a person who is not infected by:
      • Having unprotected sex with an infected person,
      • Sharing needles or “works” when “shooting” drugs,
      • Needlesticks or sharps exposure on the job, or
      • From an infected mother to her baby during birth.
    • Hepatitis C virus is spread when blood or body fluids from an infected person enter the body of a person who is not infected by:
      • Sharing needles or “works” when “shooting” drugs,
      • Needlesticks or sharps exposure on the job, or
      • From an infected mother to her infant during birth.
  • How can viral hepatitis be prevented?
    • HAV and HBV vaccinations.  Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for HCV.
    • Never share needles, syringes, water or “works.”
    • Practice safer sex.
    • Use latex condoms.
    • Limit the number of sexual partners.
    • Make sure needles used for tattooing or piercing are clean and not reused.