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Frequently Asked Questions About Viral Hepatitis

  • What is viral hepatitis?
  • Answer:

    Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Viral hepatitis is inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. There are five identified types of viral hepatitis and each one is caused by a different virus. In the U.S., hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are the most common types. Hepatitis A is caused by hepatitis A virus (HAV), hepatitis B is caused by hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C is caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV).

  • What are the symptoms of viral hepatitis?
  • Answer:

     The symptoms of acute (newly acquired) hepatitis A, B, and C are the same. Symptoms occur more often in adults than in children. If symptoms occur, they might include:

    • Tiredness
    • Loss of appetite
    • Nausea
    • Abdominal discomfort
    • Dark urine
    • Clay-colored bowel movements
    • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

     

  • How are hepatitis A, B, and C viruses spread?
  • Answer:

    Hepatitis A virus is spread from person to person by putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of a person with hepatitis A. This type of transmission is called "fecal-oral."

    HBV is spread when blood from an infected person enters the body of a person who is not infected. For example, HBV is spread through having sex with an infected person without using a condom, by sharing drugs, needles, or other paraphernalia when snorting or "shooting" drugs, through needle sticks or sharps exposures on the job, or from an infected mother to her baby during birth.

    HCV is spread when blood from an infected person enters the body of a person who is not infected. This could happen through sharing needles or other paraphernalia when snorting or "shooting" drugs, through needle sticks or sharps exposures on the job, or from an infected mother to her baby during birth.

  • How long can HAV, HBV, and HCV survive outside the body?
  • Answer:

    HAV can live outside the body for months, depending on the environmental conditions.

    HBV can survive outside the body at least seven days and still be capable of transmitting infection.

    Recent studies have shown that HCV can survive outside the body and still transmit infection for 16 hours, but not longer than four days.

  • How long is the hepatitis B vaccine effective?
  • Answer:

    Studies indicate that a hepatitis B vaccination lasts at least 23 years.

  • Are booster doses of hepatitis B vaccine needed?
  • Answer:

    No, booster doses of hepatitis B vaccine are not recommended routinely.

  • What does the term "hepatitis B carrier" mean?
  • Answer:

    "Hepatitis B carrier" is a term that is sometimes used to indicate people who have chronic (long-term) infection with HBV. Persons with chronic infection can infect others and are at increased risk of serious liver disease including cirrhosis and liver cancer.

  • If my hepatitis B vaccination series is interrupted, do I have to start over?
  • Answer:

    No. If your hepatitis B vaccination series is interrupted, resume with the next dose in the series.

  • What drugs are used to treat chronic hepatitis B?
  • Answer:

    There are at least six drugs used for the treatment of people with chronic hepatitis B: Adefovir dipivoxil, interferon alfa-2b, pegylated interferon alfa-2a, lamivudine, entecavir, and tenofovir.

  • What is the treatment for chronic hepatitis C?
  • Answer:

    For hepatitis C, combination therapy, using pegylated interferon and ribavirin, is currently the treatment of choice. However new drugs are currently being developed.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on July 09, 2014

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