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Learn the hepatitis ABCs

Hepatitis A, B and C can be dangerous, but simple steps can reduce your risk.

Learning the hepatitis alphabet may help protect you from this potentially deadly liver disease.

There are five confirmed forms of hepatitis viruses (A, B, C, D and E), all of which cause inflammation of the liver. The most common are types A, B and C. Here's a look at them:

Hepatitis A is linked to unsanitary conditions.

It is spread by putting something in your mouth that has been tainted with the feces of an infected person. For example, you could get it by eating or drinking something that has been handled by a person who hasn't washed his or her hands after using the bathroom. It can also be spread in water containing fecal matter.

Hepatitis A usually causes no long-term liver damage. You may not even know you have it. Some people show no symptoms. However, people who are infected may feel tired and nauseated. In serious cases, they have yellowish skin and dark urine. In rare cases, hepatitis A can cause liver failure and death.

You could be at risk for hepatitis A if you:

  • Travel to a place where the virus is common and water is unclean.
  • Have sex with someone who is infected.
  • Live with or care for someone who has hepatitis A.
  • Eat food or drink water that has been exposed to the hepatitis A virus.
  • Are homeless.

There is a safe and effective vaccine against hepatitis A. See your doctor if you think you are at risk for being exposed to the virus.

Hepatitis B is carried in the blood, semen, and other bodily fluids of infected people.

The virus is hardy and capable of surviving in dried blood for up to a week.

It can cause long-term liver damage and liver cancer, says the World Health Organization.

Up to half of adults, adolescents and older children with acute hepatitis B show symptoms, but most children younger than 5 who are infected do not. Someone who is infected might feel tired, queasy, feverish and bloated and have yellowing skin and dark-colored urine. But even people without symptoms can spread the disease.

There is an effective and safe immunization against hepatitis B. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for all infants and children and for any adults who may be at risk.

Some schools require children to be immunized for hepatitis B before they are admitted to classes.

You may be at risk for hepatitis B if you:

  • Have sex with an infected person.
  • Share unclean needles for drugs, tattoos or body piercings.
  • Share toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers or washcloths with an infected person.
  • Work in healthcare.
  • Live with someone who is infected.

Hepatitis C may come on like the flu. Symptoms may include fever, fatigue, stiffness and nausea.

However, some people carry the virus for years with no symptoms. In fact, many people in the United States have the infection now and don't know it, CDC says. These same people could be spreading the disease to others.

The virus can cause severe liver damage or liver failure.

Hepatitis C is spread through blood. You could be at risk if:

  • You had a blood transfusion before 1992.
  • You received a blood product for clotting problems that was made before 1987.
  • You have received a tattoo or body-piercing done with an unsterile needle.
  • You're receiving hemodialysis or you have spent many years on dialysis for kidney failure.
  • You have used injection drugs.
  • You have HIV.

According to CDC, less common risks include having sex with someone who has hepatitis C, and sharing personal care items, such as razors or toothbrushes, that may have come in contact with the blood of an infected person.

The CDC says everyone 18 and older should be tested for hepatitis C at least once, and all women should be tested during each pregnancy. Children born to an infected mother also should be tested. CDC recommends regular testing for people receiving maintenance hemodialysis and for people who inject and share needles or other drug preparation equipment.

If you have hepatitis
If you think you may be infected with any form of hepatitis, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will schedule blood tests to see if you are infected with hepatitis A, B or C.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may have you stay home for several weeks until you recover.

You may be hospitalized if your infection is more severe or if tests show that you have liver damage.

Reviewed 11/18/2022

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