Viral Hepatitis and the Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B Vaccines

“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. This condition can be caused by alcohol, chemicals, drugs and viruses that attack the liver. The information on this site primarily concerns viral Hepatits A, B, and C which are the three most common types in the United States. Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation. An estimated 4.4million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis; most do not know they are infected. About 80,000 new infections occur each year.

What is viral hepatitis?
Viral Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver usually caused by hepatitis A, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C virus.

How is viral hepatitis spread?
Hepatitis A is spread by eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Persons with Hepatitis A can spread the virus to household members or sexual partners.
Hepatitis B is one of the fastest growing sexually transmitted diseases, and also can be transmitted by sharing needles or by any behavior in which a person’s mucous membranes are exposed to an infected person’s blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or saliva (though only transmitted by biting). It can also be contracted during the birth process. The highest rate of the disease occurs in those 29-49 years of age.
Hepatitis C is spread by contact with the blood of an infected person such as from a transfusion, an organ transpant, or IV drug use.

What are the symptoms of viral hepatitis?
Symptoms of viral hepatitis can include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tenderness in the abdomen, low-grade fever, sore muscles and joints, malaise, jaundice, darkened urine, and light colored stool.

What can be done to prevent:
Hepatitis B?
Avoid high-risk behaviors. Don’t share needles, razors, toothbrushes, or pierced earrings with anyone. Practice “safer” sex, limiting partners and using condoms. Insure sterile technique is used for tattoos and piercings. All college students should be vaccinated with 3 doses of hepatitis B vaccine.

Hepatitis A?
Practice good personal hygiene, washing hands thoroughly when handling linens or diapers from someone with Hepatitis A. Avoid contaminated food or water. A vaccine is available for anyone 12 months of age and older who wants to be protected against hepatitis A. The hepatitis A vaccine is given through two shots. The second shot is given 6 to 12 months after the first shot. Both shots are needed to be fully protected from the virus.
If you are traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common, including Mexico, try to get both shots before you go. If you don’t have time to get both shots before you travel, get the first shot as soon as possible. Most people gain some protection within 2 weeks after the first shot.
A vaccine is available for those who may be exposed to hepatitis A.

Hepatitis C?
Don’t ever use IV drugs. Avoid risky sexual behavior. No vaccine is available for hepatitis C.

How can I learn more about viral hepatitis and the vaccines available?
Ask your health care provider or St. Olaf Health Service staff.

More information:
Minnesota Department of Health Hepatitis Disease This information discusses different types of viral hepatitis. Learn about each type.
Centers For Disease Control & Prevention Viral Hepatitis