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Hepatitis Health Center

Understanding Hepatitis -- the Basics

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What Causes Hepatitis? continued...

Hepatitis A is usually spread by eating food or drinking water contaminated with feces carrying the virus. Hepatitis A is the least dangerous form of hepatitis because it almost always gets better on its own. Also, it does not lead to chronic inflammation of the liver. But about 15% of people with hepatitis A become so ill that they need hospitalization, and each year, fewer than 100 people die as a result of liver failure from hepatitis A. That is why anyone at risk of infection, as well as all people with any form of chronic liver disease, should get the hepatitis A vaccine.

The hepatitis A virus commonly spreads through improper handling of food, contact with household members, sharing toys at daycare centers, and eating raw shellfish taken from polluted waters. Simply eating out in a restaurant can put you at risk of Hepatitis A.

 The following people have a higher risk of getting hepatitis A:

  • People who travel to developing countries
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People who have oral-to-anal sex
  • Intravenous drug users
  • People who have contact with sewage
  • Employees and children (particularly those in diapers) at daycare centers
  • Employees and patients in institutions for the mentally disabled
  • People who work with primates, such as apes and monkeys
  • People who live in crowded conditions with poor sanitation

Hepatitis B can spread through sex (it is 100 times easier to spread through sex than HIV), blood transfusions (mostly before 1975), and needle sharing by intravenous drug users. The virus can pass from mother to child at birth or soon afterward; the virus can also pass between adults and children to infect whole families. Other people at risk include those with kidney failure who are undergoing hemodialysis -- a procedure that helps filter blood -- or those receiving a transplanted organ infected with the hepatitis B virus.

Most adults with hepatitis B get better, but a small percentage of them can't shake the disease and become carriers. Carriers can transmit the disease to others even when their own symptoms have disappeared. A smaller percentage of adults who cannot fight off the virus will develop chronic hepatitis B. Like carriers, those with chronic hepatitis B are able to pass the virus. 

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