Hepatitis (pronounced: hep a tie tiss) is an infection of the liver. It comes from the Greek word “hepar,” which means “liver,” and the Latin “itis,” which means “inflammation.” The liver is the largest gland in the body and it performs a boatload of functions, so it’s important to be aware of hepatitis to take preventative measures – like vaccines when possible, getting tested, or seeking treatment if you’ve already got one of the types. Especially because many people will either experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
You’ve probably heard of Hepatitis A, B, and C, but there are actually 5 main types: A, B, C, D, and E, plus two more G and X. There are effective vaccines for Hepatitis A and B, but no vaccines for C, D, E, G, or X.
Hepatitis A is caused the hepatitis A virus, also known as HAV. People can get HAV by eating infected food or water, contact with feces, or from anal-oral contact during sexual play. Symptoms include a flu-like illness, jaundice, severe stomach pains, and diarrhea. HAV does not lead to chronic disease and most people that get infected by it make a full recovery. There is no specific treatment for HAV though doctors usually recommend abstaining from drugs and alcohol during recovery.
Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and usually considered an STD because it is the most likely type to be sexually transmitted – approximately 46,000 people become infected with it every year. It’s estimated 1.25 million people in the U.S. are carriers of HBV; 1 out of 20 people that get HBV as adults will be carriers and have long-term infection. People can get infected from any kind of body fluid including blood (usually from an infected person or using a syringe that an infected person has used since donated blood is always tested for HBV), unsanitary conditions (including sharing anything like a razor or toothbrush that may have an infected person’s blood on it), mother’s milk, semen, vaginal secretions, or even being bitten by an infected person. Once a person has been infected their liver will swell and they can get serious damage from the infection that can be long-term and even result in cancer. HBV usually goes away by itself within 4 to 8 weeks though, and 9 out of 10 adults that get it will completely recover from it. Babies lacking developed immune systems are more vulnerable: 9 out of 10 infants that get HBV at birth with have a long-term infection unless they get treatment right away. Condoms are reasonably effective against HBV in sexual situations when used correctly and consistently. There is no cure for HBV though treatment for may include an antiviral medication called Interferon as well as dietary recommendations that help repair damaged liver cells. Read more about Hepatitis B on Planned Parenthood and the Hepatitis B Foundation.
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and is typically spread from direct contact with the blood of an infected person. As with people infected with hepatitis B, people infected with HCV will also experience a damaged and swollen liver, however, liver cancer is less likely. Feces is not a route for transmitting HCV and donated blood is also tested for it. HCV is not curable but treatment may include Interferon, Ribavirin, vitamin B12 supplements, and dietary recommendations that help repair damaged liver cells.
Hepatitis D is caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV) and only a person that already has hepatitis B can get HDV. People can get infected via contact with infected blood, sexual body fluids like semen and vaginal secretions, and infected needles. A person infected with HDV will also experience a swollen liver. There is no known treatment or cure for HDV.
Hepatitis E is caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV) and people can become infected from drinking contaminated water, contact with feces, or anal-oral contact during sexual play. A person infected with HEV will experience a swollen liver but there are no long-term consequences. There is no known treatment or cure for HEV.
Hepatitis G is now more commonly known as GB virus C (GBV-C). It can be spread parenterallly (injection, implantation, or blood transfusion) or sexually. It is not known to cause any illnesses, there are often no symptoms, and many people clear the virus within a few years. GBV-C infects about 2% of US blood donors while 13% have antibodies, indicating a prior infection. About 10 to 25% of people infected with hepatitis C and 14 – 36% of drug users that are seropositive for HIV-1 have GBV-C as well. Interestingly, one study suggest that GBV-C may slow the progression of HIV when someone is infected with both. There is non known treatment for GBV-C.
If a hepatitis virus cannot be attributed to the other types of hepatitis it is called, Hepatitis X, in other words, hepatitis of an unknown virus. There are no definitive causes or cures for hepatitis X.
Note: there is another form of hepatitis caused by drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, it’s called Alcoholic Hepatitis. It is usually found in association with hepatosteatosis, an early stage of alcoholic liver disease, and may contribute to the progression of fibrosis, leading to cirrhosis . Symptoms are jaundice, ascites (fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity), fatigue and hepatic encephalopathy (brain dysfunction due to liver failure). Mild cases are self-limiting, but severe cases have a high risk of death. Severe cases may be treated with glucocorticoids.
To find a location to get tested for hepatitis or learn more about vaccines visit our resources page, or Google test centers in your area. If you are infected with hepatitis and want to find a support group, visit Hepatitis Central or browse this list by state.
***This is a blog and the information on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, nor is it meant to take the place of your personal physician’s advice.***