Hepatitis is an 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 viruses that affect the liver causing illness characterized by nausea, abdominal pain, and jaundice. The most common types in the United States are hepatitis A, B, and C.
These viruses are spread from one person to another through different routes. By understanding how they are spread, you can take steps to prevent infection.
- Hepatitis A is spread by ingestion of fecal matter, even in microscopic amounts, from close person-to-person contact or ingestion of contaminated food or drinks. It can be prevented by vaccination, hand washing, drinking only clean water, cooking food thoroughly, and by practicing safe sex.
- Hepatitis B is spread by direct contact with infected blood or bodily fluids. It can be prevented by vaccination, practicing safe sex, and not sharing any items that might be contaminated with someone else’s blood such as nail clippers, tooth brushes, razors, needles or sharps, and injection drug equipment.
- Hepatitis C is spread by direct contact with infected blood. It can be prevented by not sharing any items that might be contaminated with someone else’s blood, such as nail clippers, tooth brushes, razors, needles or sharps, and injection drug equipment, and by practicing safe sex.
Vaccines are only available to protect against hepatitis A and B. Hepatitis B and C can cause long-term infection that is associated with an increased risk for chronic liver disease and liver cancer, so testing and vaccination is especially important.
US CDC has issued several recent MMWRs that discuss hepatitis, including:
- Assessing the completeness of perinatal hepatitis B virus infection reporting
- Hepatitis C virus infection among adolescents and young adults in Massachusetts
The US Department of Health and Human Services has also released Combating the Silent Epidemic of Viral Hepatitis: Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis, its strategic plan to raise awareness about hepatitis and create opportunities to train health professionals to vaccinate, diagnose, treat, and ultimately save lives.
For more information: http://www.mainepublichealth.gov/hepatitis