Frequently Asked Questions About Viral Hepatitis

What is viral hepatitis?

It's an inflammation of your liver that's caused by a virus. There are five types of this condition, but the most common ones in the U.S. are hepatitis A, B, and C.

What are the symptoms?

The effects of hepatitis A, B, and C are similar. You might have:

If you have long-term hepatitis C, it could lead to scarring of your liver, called cirrhosis.

How is hepatitis A spread?

You get it by eating or drinking something that's got the virus in it.

How is hepatitis B spread?

You get it when blood from someone who's infected gets into your body. For instance, you can catch it if you share needles when using illegal drugs.

You can also get hepatitis B if you have sex without using a condom with someone who's got it.

If you're pregnant and you've got hepatitis B, you could pass it to your child during birth.

How is hepatitis C spread?

Like hepatitis B, you get this type when the blood of someone who's infected enters your body. This can happen through sharing needles when using illegal drugs. An infected mother can also give the disease to her newborn child during birth.

How long do the viruses that cause hepatitis survive outside the body?

The hepatitis A virus can live outside the body for months.

Hepatitis B survives for at least 7 days while still being able to cause an infection.

Hepatitis C can live outside the body for up to 4 days and still spread the disease.

How long is the hepatitis B vaccine effective?

Studies show that a vaccine will prevent the disease for at least 20 years. But booster doses aren't routinely recommended.

What does the term "hepatitis B carrier" mean?

If you have long-term hepatitis B you might be a "carrier," which means you can infect others.

If my hepatitis B vaccination series gets interrupted, do I have to start over?

No. If for some reason you stop your vaccines in the middle of the series, you can resume with the next dose.

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What drugs are used to treat long-term hepatitis B?

Medicines for this disease include:

What is the treatment for hepatitis C?

Before the drugs we now have available, the typical treatment was a combination of pegylated interferon and ribavirin. But new medicines have come out in recent years that do not require interferon, are generally well tolerated, and cure more people. Your treatment will depend on many things including what type of hepatitis C virus you have.  In the U.S., the most common is genotype 1, followed by genotypes 2 and 3.  Genotypes 4, 5, and 6 are rare in the U.S. Your doctor may suggest you take:

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on December 12, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC.

American Liver Foundation: "Hepatitis C Treatments."

 

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