Composite of Hepatitis Virus and Liver
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Hepatitis Types and Liver Risks

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. It can be caused by several viruses. The main types in the United States are A, B, and C. Type A symptoms are often similar to a stomach virus. But most cases resolve within a month. Hepatitis B and C can cause sudden illness. However, they can lead to liver cancer or a chronic infection that can lead to serious liver damage called cirrhosis. 

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Hand Wash Sign in Bathroom
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Contamination Spreads Hepatitis

Hepatitis A is spread by eating food or drinking beverages that have been contaminated with the feces of an infected person. You can also get infected through close contact with a person who has hepatitis -- for example, by changing a diaper or through sexual contact. Poor sanitation and poor hygiene increase the risk. Hepatitis B and C are spread mainly through infected blood, semen, or other body fluids.

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Hand Washing Lettuce at Sink
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Hepatitis A Risks: Produce and Drinking Water

Hepatitis A outbreaks have been traced to eating contaminated fresh fruits, vegetables, and salads. Wash produce well before eating, even if you plan to peel it. You can also get hepatitis A by drinking contaminated water. Boil river or lake water. Visiting a developing country? Stick to bottled water and skip ice unless it’s made from bottled water. Vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B, but not C.

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Plate of Raw Oysters
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Raw Shellfish

Because shellfish is sometimes harvested from polluted waters, uncooked oysters, clams, and mussels can transmit hepatitis A. That's something to think about before your next trip to the raw bar. Cooked shellfish is safer.

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Washing Hands With Bar of Soap
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Unclean Hands

Hepatitis A can survive outside the body for months. Good hygiene -- including always washing your hands or using hand sanitizer after using the toilet, changing a diaper, and before handling food or eating -- helps prevent the spread of hepatitis A. Using a public restroom? Flush with your foot, and use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door on your way out.

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Dentist Treating Patient
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Contaminated Blood

Infected blood and body fluids spread hepatitis B and C. Infection can be passed from mother to child during birth, between sexual partners, or through contact with open wound. It can also be spread by contaminated dental instruments, though sterilization practices make this unlikely. Donor blood is screened in the United States, so the risk of hepatitis from a transfusion is small. One transfusion in 205,000 transmits hepatitis B, and one in 2 million transmits hepatitis C.

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Woman Getting Tattoo on Arm
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Tattoos and Piercings

Getting a tattoo or piercing? Lessen your risk of hepatitis B and C by finding a salon that’s serious about controlling infections. It should be clean and tidy, the staff licensed and well trained. Are the tools heat-sterilized between uses? Hepatitis B and C can be transmitted through improper sterilization and reuse of equipment such as needles. And make sure people wash their hands and put on fresh gloves before touching you.

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Manicurist trimming woman's nails with clippers
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Pedicures, Manicures, and Hair Cuts

Trips to the salon or barbershop may pose a small risk of exposure to Hepatitis B and C. While there's a small (2%-5%) chance of transmitting hepatitis through grooming items, anytime there's potential for exposure to blood you may be at risk for hepatitis. Reduce your risk by bringing your own nail files, cuticle clippers, razors, or other equipment.

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Man kissing woman's neck
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Sexual Contact

Having sex with someone who has hepatitis B is a major cause of new infections. The hepatitis B virus can be found in an infected person's blood, vaginal fluid, or semen. Short of abstinence, being vaccinated is the surest way to avoid being infected by your partner. Latex condoms and dental dams may help reduce your risk, too.

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Couple Brushing Teeth in Bathroom
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Sharing Personal Items

Hepatitis B and C can spread by sharing personal items belonging to someone else. That goes for toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers, washcloths, needles, or anything else that might harbor traces of infected blood. Keep these items for your own use only.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 11/28/2016 Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on November 28, 2016

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REFERENCES:

Avert.org: "Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C."

Hepatitis Foundation International: "Preventing Hepatitis."

Immunization Action Coalition: "Hepatitis A, B, and C: Learn the Differences."

Hepatitis Foundation International: "Preventing Hepatitis."

Immunization Action Coalition: "Hepatitis A, B, and C: Learn the Differences."

World Health Organization: "Hepatitis A."

Produce Safety Project: "Foodborne Pathogens Associated With Fresh Fruits and Vegetables."

Texas Cooperative Extension, The Texas A&M University System: "Safe Handing of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables."

Directors of Health Promotion and Education, "Hepatitis!"

WebMD Feature: "What Can You Catch in Restrooms -- Bathroom Paranoia."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Hepatitis A FAQs for the Public."

Asian Pacific Liver Center: "How Hepatitis Spreads."

American Cancer Society: "Possible Risks of Blood Product Transfusions."

Swedish Medical Center: "Can Salons Spread Infection?"

HBVAdvocate.org, "Sex and Hepatitis B."

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, Focus on Hepatitis C: "Living with Hepatitis C."

Public Health Agency of Canada: "Frequently Asked Questions About Hepatitis C."

Kids Health: "Hepatitis."

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: "What I need to know about Hepatitis B."

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on November 28, 2016

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.