Hepatitis: The ABC's of Keeping Your Family Safe From Infection
No doubt you’ve heard of Hepatitis, especially as news reports keep surfacing about the critical connection between poor hand-washing habits and the spread of Hepatitis A, the most common strain of the disease. But what exactly is Hepatitis? And what can you do to protect yourself and others?
Let’s start by defining it. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that is commonly caused by a virus (although in less frequent cases, it may be caused by certain medications or toxins from alcohol or drugs). Hepatitis is categorized by three different strains: A, B and C.
This is the most common form of Hepatitis. Like Hepatitis B and C, it is caused by a virus. However, people who have been infected with Hepatitis A often show no signs or symptoms. This is especially true in children.
What are the Symptoms of Hepatitis A?
If you do have symptoms, they may include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark urine and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). A blood test is the only way to know for sure if you’ve been infected.
How is Hepatitis A Transmitted?
You are most likely to get Hepatitis A through food or water that has been contaminated with the feces (stool) of an infected person. Hepatitis A is most common in areas where poor sanitary conditions are found or where good personal hygiene is not practiced. Hepatitis A is the primary reason why you often see signs in restaurant bathrooms reminding employees to wash their hands before returning to work.
Is There Any Treatment for Hepatitis A?
Yes, there are two forms of treatment. And the good news is that both have been proven to be safe and effective.
Hepatitis A vaccine can be given to persons 2 years of age and older and is recommended only for individuals who have not yet been exposed to the virus but who may be at risk of infection, either from an infected household member, travel to certain foreign countries or a higher-risk lifestyle. Protection from this vaccine is estimated to last for at least 20 years.
Immune globulin is given prior to exposure for short-term protection or within 2 weeks after exposure.
And here’s more good news: The vast majority of people infected with Hepatitis A recover completely as long as they’ve been diagnosed and treated promptly.
Hepatitis B is a less common but more serious form of the disease that infects more than 240,000 people every year in the United States alone. About 5% of the people in the United States will get Hepatitis B sometime in their lifetime. This severe infection can result in serious illness, substantial liver damage and even death.
What are the Symptoms of Hepatitis B?
They’re the same as Hepatitis A. And remember, they may be hard to identify, especially in children. A blood test is the only way to determine whether a person has been infected.
How is Hepatitis B Transmitted?
The Hepatitis B virus is found in blood and certain bodily fluids of people infected with the disease including blood, semen, vaginal secretions and saliva. The virus is not found in sweat, tears, urine or phlegm and cannot be transmitted by casual contact.
Is There a Vaccine for Hepatitis B?
Yes, and it can provide protection in 90-95% of healthy people. It can be safely given to babies, children and adults in three doses over a six-month period. Vaccinations are routinely given to babies shortly after birth. All adolescents should receive the vaccine at age 11 or 12 if they have not been previously vaccinated.
This is the least common form of Hepatitis and carries symptoms similar to Hepatitis A and B. Hepatitis C infection occurs only from exposure to the blood of an infected person and it is most likely to be found in intravenous drug users, transfusion recipients (prior to 1992), persons with multiple sex partners or infants born to infected mothers.Return to LEARN MORE