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  • The Samuel and Esther Chester Immunology Center

  • Frequently Asked Questions About Hepatitis

  • What is hepatitis?

    Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver due to viruses or other causes.

    What does the liver do?

    The liver is responsible for making important proteins that your body needs. The liver works as a filter, removing toxins from the body. The liver is part of the immune system. The liver also has a role in producing chemicals involved in digestion and in making healthy blood.

    Where is the liver located?

    The liver is located on the right side of the abdomen, under the ribs. It is about the size of a football.

    How do you get hepatitis A virus (HAV)?

    HAV is spread through the ingestion of HAV-infected fecal matter or stool (even tiny amounts), from close person-to-person contact with a HAV-infected individual, sexual contact with a HAV-infected individual or ingestion or contact with contaminated objects.

    How do you get hepatitis C virus (HCV)?

    HCV is transmitted when the blood of a person who has HCV enters another person's bloodstream. This may happen through the sharing of contaminated needles or other injection equipment, intranasal cocaine through the sharing of straws, or receiving a blood transfusion before 1992 or blood product before 1987.

    How common is viral hepatitis?

    It is difficult to determine the number of viral hepatitis infections. Surveillance systems to detect viral hepatitis are not fully in place and many people who are infected do not have symptoms, have not been diagnosed or do not know that they are infected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in 2007, there were 25,000 new HAV infections in the United States. In 2009, an estimated 38,000 persons in the United States were newly infected with HBV and 800,000-1.4 million persons were thought to have chronic HBV infection. The CDC estimates that in the United States 3.2 million persons are chronically infected with HCV but other sources estimate this number to be as many as 5 million.

    What is the difference between HAV, HBV and HCV?

    HAV, HBV and HCV are caused by three distinct viruses. They have different modes of transmission. The effect on the body and the liver varies depending on the virus. Individuals who contract HAV usually improve without specific medications and do not develop persistent liver infection. HBV and HCV can progress into persistent or chronic infection resulting in liver damage.

    What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

    Not all individuals will show symptoms of viral hepatitis. Individuals who contract HAV may experience symptoms such as fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and yellowing of the skin and/or whites of the eyes. These symptoms may also occur when someone catches HBV. When individuals catch HCV they may feel nothing. In the chronic phase of HBV and HCV, most people do not have symptoms. Later on, people can develop swelling in the legs and belly, bleeding problems and fatigue. HBV and HCV disease can progress even without symptoms.

    How can you prevent viral hepatitis?

    Safe, effective vaccines are available to prevent HAV and HBV. Currently, there is no vaccine available to prevent HCV. The best way to prevent HCV infection is to abstain from injecting drugs. If you do inject drugs, it is important to always use a new, sterile syringe and do not reuse or share syringes, needles, waters, cookers or other injection equipment. HIV-infected men who have sex with men should avoid unprotected anal intercourse and always use a condom.

    Can viral hepatitis be treated?

    Individuals who contract HAV usually improve without specific medications. There are medications available for chronic HBV to control the virus, prevent and delay liver damage, and decrease the chance of developing liver cancer. Treatment is available for HCV and may lead to viral eradication, or cure, which is beneficial.