What is Viral Hepatitis?

Viral Hepatitis is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver. The most common types are
Hepatitis A (HAV), Hepatitis B (HBV) and Hepatitis C (HCV). If untreated, hepatitis can cause liver damage, liver failure or liver cancer.

Hepatitis is a serious liver disease that can be spread through sex with an infected person. Men who have sexual contact with other men are at increased risk for both Hepatitis A and B.  But protecting yourself is easy.  Get vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B.  Call your local health department for more information.

Did you know…

  • Hepatitis is called the silent killer because a person may carry the virus in their body for up to 6 months without having any symptoms.
  • CDC estimates that 4.4 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis; most don’t know they’re infected.
  • According to the CDC, HBV is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV and can be passed through sexual intercourse.

Are you at risk?cdcStatGraphic

Although anyone can contract Hepatitis, some people are at greater risk, such as those who:

  • Have sexual contact with an infected person
  • Have multiple sex partners
  • Have a sexually transmitted disease
  • Are men who have sexual encounters with other men
  • Inject drugs or share needles, syringes, or other injection equipment
  • Live with a person who has Hepatitis
  • Are on hemodialysis
  • Are exposed to blood on the job
  • Are infants born to infected mothers

Click here to take the online assessment quiz to see if you’re at risk: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/RiskAssessment/

Hepatitis A (HAV)

  • Although HAV is contagious, people usually improve without treatment
  • HAV develops as an acute (short term) illness only.  It does not become a chronic (long term) illness.
  • HAV is transmitted via the following routes:
    • Sex with an infected person (especially oral-anal contact)
    • When an infected person doesn’t wash his/her hands after using the bathroom and touches food or other objects
    • When a caregiver doesn’t wash his/her hands after changing a diaper or cleaning up the stool of an infected person
    • Contaminated food or water

Vaccines are available to prevent HAV. Contact your doctor or the local health department about getting tested and/or vaccinated.

Hepatitis B (HBV)

HBV is usually spread when blood, semen, or another body fluid from an infected person comes into contact with a non-infected person . This can happen through unprotected sexual contact with an infected person, sharing needles or syringes, and tattoos or body piercing. HBV can also be passed from an infected mother to her newborn during birth.

HBV can be either acute or chronic. Acute Hepatitis B virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the virus. Acute infection can, but does not always lead to chronic infection. Chronic HBV is a long-term illness that occurs when the virus remains in a person’s body, which can cause long-term health problems, and even death.

Prevention

The best way to prevent contracting HBV is to get vaccinated.  The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that the following persons be vaccinated against Hepatitis B:

  • All infants, beginning at birth
  • All children aged <19 years who have not been vaccinated previously
  • Susceptible sex partners of Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg)-positive persons
  • Sexually active persons who are not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship (e.g., >1 sex partner during the previous 6 months)
  • Persons seeking evaluation or treatment for a sexually transmitted disease
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Injection drug users
  • Susceptible household contacts of HBsAg-positive persons
  • Health care and public safety workers at risk for exposure to blood or blood-contaminated body fluids
  • Persons with HIV infection
  • All other persons seeking protection from HBV infection

Contact your healthcare provider or DeKalb County Board of Health for more information on prevention, testing and vaccinations.

Hepatitis C (HCV)

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) has become the leading cause of death from liver disease and the most frequent indication of liver transplantation in the United States. According to the Hepatitis C Working Group of Georgia, more that 3 million people in the U.S. are chronically infected with HCV, prevalence roughly three times that of HIV infection.  A fourfold increase in the number of people diagnosed with HCV is expected to occur by 2015 and HCV-related liver deaths are expected to triple by the year 2020.

Most HCV-infected persons in the U.S. acquired the virus by intravenous drug use. However, a significant number were infected because of contaminated blood transfusions prior to the routine testing of the U.S. blood supply in 1992.  Other routes of infection include high-risk sexual behavior, infected organs from transplant donors, occupational exposure, unsafe medical practices and mother –to-infant transmission.

Although, there is no vaccine to prevention HCV, there have been substantial strides in HCV treatment success in the past few years.  Talk with your health care provider or contact the DeKalb County Board of Health about screening for HCV and/or treatment options.