Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by viruses. Most common are hepatitis A, B, and C.
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. People who get hepatitis A may feel sick for a few weeks to several months but usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. The hepatitis A virus is found in the stool and blood of people who are infected and can be spread when someone ingests the virus, usually through eating contaminated food or drink or through close personal contact with an infected person. Hepatitis A is very contagious and people can even spread the virus before they get symptoms. However, hepatitis A is easily prevented with a safe and effective vaccine, which is recommended for all children at one year of age and for adults who may be at risk, including travelers to certain international countries. (Centers for Disease Control, Hepatitis A,B,Cs)
Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness.
The hepatitis B virus is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluid carrying the hepatitis B virus enters the body of a person who is not have hepatitis B. People can contract with the virus from:
- Birth (spread from an infected mother to her baby during birth)
- Sex with an infected partner
- Sharing needles, syringes, or drug preparation equipment
- Sharing items such as toothbrushes, razors or medical equipment such as a glucose monitor with an infected person
- Direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person
- Exposure to blood from needlesticks or other sharp instruments of an infected person
Hepatitis B virus is not spread through food or water, sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, hand holding, coughing, or sneezing. (Centers for Disease Control, Hepatitis A,B,Cs)
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. Most people who get infected will develop a chronic, or lifelong, infection. Left untreated, chronic hepatitis C can cause serious health problems including liver disease, liver failure, and even liver cancer. Hepatitis C is usually spread when someone comes into contact with blood from an infected person. In the past, hepatitis C was spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. However, widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1990 and the hepatitis C virus was virtually eliminated from the blood supply by 1992. Today, most people become infected with hepatitis C by sharing needles, syringes, or any other equipment to inject drugs. Rates of new infections have been on the rise, particularly among young adults, which coincides with the recent increase in injection drug use related to the United States’ opioid crisis. While more uncommon, hepatitis C can also spread through healthcare exposures, sex with an infected person, birth to an infected mother, and tattoos and body piercings from unlicensed facilities or informal settings. (Centers for Disease Control, Hepatitis A,B,Cs)
Learn more about hepatitis at the CDC’s Hepatitis information page.