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Hepatitis ABCs

Not totally sure what the differences among hepatitis A, B and C are, and how they could impact you? Tryon Medical Partners gastroenterology specialist Dr. Christopher Ferris has you covered with key information you should know about the main types of viral hepatitis and how you can stay protected. 

What is hepatitis and what are the various types? 

When most people hear “hepatitis,” they often think of viral hepatitis. Hepatitis just means inflammation of the liver that can be caused by many factors, including autoimmune diseases, drugs and viruses that invade the liver. There are several viruses that cause hepatitis. The three main kinds of viral hepatitis are A, B and C. 

  • Hepatitis A. More than a million cases of hepatitis A are reported each year globally. Outbreaks are common in countries with less developed systems of sanitation. Hepatitis A outbreaks are less common in the United States, yet thousands of cases still happen each year. Hepatitis A spreads from person to person through contact with the blood and stool. It is contagious enough that microscopic amounts of the virus can cause illness. The most common way to get hepatitis A is by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the virus. 
  • Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is even more common and spreads from person to person through contact with bodily fluids like blood and semen. Sexual contact, needle-sharing and exposure to blood are common ways you can get exposed to hepatitis B. A person with hepatitis B can also pass the virus to an unborn child during pregnancy. 
  • Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is the most common type of hepatitis in the United States. The hepatitis C virus is passed to someone when they come in contact with blood that contains the virus. Most people get hepatitis C from: needle-sharing, sharing items that could contain blood (like razors), tattooing and sexual contact. Newborns can also get hepatitis C from a birthing parent with the virus. 

“The ways in which people get viral hepatitis have changed over time,” Dr. Ferris shares. “For example, it used to be possible that people would transmit hepatitis through tattoo parlors, but now most parlors disinfect properly, so that’s less common. Similarly with blood transfusions – now that we can test before banking, it is rare to transmit through transfusion.” 

What do treatments look like? 

Prevention. Each hepatitis virus is treated differently, both in terms of prevention and response. Hepatitis A and B can be prevented by vaccination. Children will be vaccinated during regular pediatric care. Vaccinations are very efficacious – while immunity may wane over time, if you’re vaccinated, it’s very unlikely you’ll acquire it. 

“Most adults are already likely to be vaccinated if they get regular healthcare,” Dr. Ferris points out. “It’s increasingly rare to find someone who isn’t vaccinated for hepatitis A and B, although adults may get boosters if they need them.”

Treatments. In addition to preventative vaccines, there are treatment options for each type of viral hepatitis. 

  • Hepatitis A. If you do develop hepatitis A, patients can expect symptoms like fever, nausea and vomiting. As the body responds and clears the virus, the liver heals. Patients just require supportive care and will improve on their own. Very rarely are there complications of acute hepatitis A. 
  • Hepatitis B. Patients may have initial viral symptoms, but then they will go on to develop an asymptomatic chronic infection, passing to other people although they’ve recovered. There are partial treatments for hepatitis B, but nothing to completely eradicate the virus.
  • Hepatitis C. While there is no vaccine, hepatitis C can be completely eradicated with a nearly 100% success rate and some patients may even clear it on their own. For those who need treatment, there is a daily pill that will treat all types. Hepatitis C can become chronic and then cause permanent damage to the liver called cirrhosis, liver cancer, or even liver failure, so it’s important to be tested. 

Visit the Tryon website today to learn more about preventative vaccinations, your immunization status and additional information regarding hepatitis.