- Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can be caused by a group of viruses.
- There are five major types of viral hepatitis: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatitis D, and hepatitis E.
- Hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C are the most common types of viral hepatitis found in the United States.
- The are vaccines available that can prevent both hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can be caused by a group of viruses—hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. When hepatitis viruses damage liver cells, scar tissue is formed and those cells can no longer function. With fewer healthy liver cells, the body begins to show symptoms ranging from mild (such as fatigue) to more severe symptoms (such as mental confusion).
Although many cases of hepatitis are not a serious threat to health, the disease can sometimes become chronic (long-lasting) and may lead to liver failure and death. In many cases, though, viral hepatitis is a self-resolving illness—meaning it goes away on its own.
Sexual activity poses a different level of risk for each type of viral hepatitis, but is most closely associated with hepatitis B. Blood transfusion, IV needle sharing, and organ transplants may also pose a risk for transmission.
Click on the hepatitis types below to learn more.
- Low-grade fever
- Malaise (feeling of ill-health)
- Fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal discomfort
- Dark-colored urine
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
There is no cure for hepatitis A. Most people with severe infection will experience short-term illness and then recover completely. They are often told to rest for a few weeks and to avoid intimate contact with others. Once recovered, an individual is immune and will not get hepatitis A again.
Fortunately, complications from hepatitis A are rare, and few deaths result from it. It is not known to cause chronic infections. However, it can make some people very sick, and it is easily preventable through vaccination.
Hepatitis B virus is passed on through contact with infected body fluids such as semen, vaginal secretions, and blood. It is most often transmitted through sexual contact but can also be contracted when injecting drug users share needles and other injecting equipment. Mothers with hepatitis B can also pass the virus to their infants during birth.
Hepatitis B is not spread through food, water, sharing utensils, hugging, kissing, or by casual contact.
Hepatitis B can be experienced as an acute infection causing mild illness for a few weeks or months or as a more serious chronic infection lasting a lifetime. People with an acute infection often have few or no symptoms and will clear the virus on their own without treatment. Once a person has cleared the infection, they can’t be infected with hepatitis B again.
Chronic hepatitis B infection can cause complications such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and even lead to liver cancer.
Hepatitis B is diagnosed by a blood test that detects hepatitis B antibodies in the blood. Blood tests can determine whether a person has acute or chronic hepatitis.
The good news is that hepatitis B is preventable through vaccination. A person can choose to be vaccinated and no longer have to worry about being infected with hepatitis B.
Other ways to prevent hepatitis B infection include using condoms and barrier methods during oral, anal and vaginal sex, and avoiding contact with infected blood or other body fluids directly or on objects such as needles, razors, or toothbrushes. The hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body for at least 7 days and is still infectious during that time. Any surfaces contaminated with blood should be cleaned with a solution of 1 part household bleach and 10 parts water.
Hepatitis C is primarily transmitted by direct contact with blood. The most common way currently is through sharing of needles or other injecting equipment during intravenous drug use that have not been properly cleaned between users.
While not common, hepatitis C can be spread through vaginal or anal sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), having an STI or HIV, having sex with multiple partners, or rough sex appears to increase a person’s risk for hepatitis C. But again, sexual transmission of hepatitis C is not common.
CDC now recommends one-time hepatitis C testing of all adults (18 years and older) and all pregnant women during every pregnancy.
Hepatitis D is a viral infection of the liver that can only be acquired if a person has active hepatitis B. Hepatitis D is linked directly to hepatitis B, particularly to chronic hepatitis B infection. Vaccination against hepatitis B can protect people from hepatitis D infection.
Hepatitis E is primarily transmitted by contaminated drinking water and is not thought to be sexually transmitted.