What is hepatitis?
“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis. Hepatitis is also the name of a family of viral infections that affect the liver; the most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.
What is the difference between Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C are diseases caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms, they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently. Hepatitis A appears only as an acute or newly occurring infection and does not become chronic. People with Hepatitis A usually improve without treatment. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C can also begin as acute infections, but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver problems. There are vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B; however, there is not one for Hepatitis C. If a person has had one type of viral hepatitis in the past, it is still possible to get the other types.
These three types of hepatitis show the acute level of danger in any time of life.
Hepatitis A, B, and C: Learn the Differences
Hepatitis A virus causes an acute inflammation of the liver (hepatitis) that almost always gets better on its own. It can be more serious if we are older when we have the disease. It is easily spread from person to person, in food and water, and can infect many people at once (example: if a food handler at a restaurant is infected, many who ate the food can be infected).
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) can be both acute (short-term illness) and chronic (ongoing illness), and is spread through blood or other body fluids in various ways. Hepatitis B is very common in Asia and Africa and those who were born or lived in these areas should be checked for hepatitis B.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is almost always chronic and spreads only by blood. Hepatitis A and B can be prevented by vaccination, but not hepatitis C. There are now many good medications available to treat chronic hepatitis B and C.
The symptoms of acute hepatitis include yellowing of the skin and eyes, nausea, fever and fatigue. Chronic hepatitis may have no symptoms, and can last many years and lead to cirrhosis of the liver, which means the liver becomes heavily scarred and less functional.
Because chronic hepatitis may have no symptoms, it is important to know who is at risk to have chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV). Those who had a transfusion of blood or blood products before 1992 (when the HCV was identified), those who have experimented with intravenous drugs or have snorted cocaine, those who have gotten tattoos with a non-sterile needle, and those who have had unprotected multiple sexual partners are at risk to have HCV. But sometimes people who do not have any of these risks behavior can have chronic HCV. In 2013 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that anyone in the United States born between 1945 and 1964 should be tested for HCV because most patients with HCV in the the country are in that age group and some don’t have a history of risky behavior.
Prevention is very important. Other than vaccination, people should be very careful about hygiene (such as hand-washing after using the restroom) to prevent hepatitis A. Hepatitis B and C can be transmitted by sex or sharing needles, razors, or toothbrushes with someone who has the disease.