Get an A-Plus in Preventing Hepatitis
A, B, C, D: The different forms of the hepatitis virus sound like grades on a report card. Doing your homework can keep your family safe.
Hepatitis is a disease that affects your liver, an organ that helps digest food, store energy and remove toxins. When you have hepatitis, your liver swells and does not work properly. Symptoms may include:
- dark urine;
- yellow skin and eyes;
- loss of appetite.
Many cases of hepatitis don't cause any symptoms. A blood test is needed to detect the condition. To prevent hepatitis, it's important to understand the different types and the way they are contracted:
Hepatitis A usually causes a short-term infection that goes away on its own. It is spread through the waste of infected people or by eating contaminated food. A new vaccination can protect those at risk, including travelers to Asia or Central and South America and people with blood-clotting problems. To stay safe, wash your hands after using the bathroom or changing a baby's diapers and before handling food.
Hepatitis B is spread through sexual activity, sharing drug needles or coming into contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person. Most cases are short-term and get better without treatment. But 10 percent of sufferers will develop a long-term condition that may require medication. Vaccines are the best prevention against hepatitis B and are recommended for both adults and children. In addition, don't share personal items such as toothbrushes, towels or razors.
Hepatitis C is America's most common blood-borne infection, causing chronic infection in up to 85 percent of cases. People at risk include injection drug users, those who had a blood transfusion before 1992 and babies of infected mothers. Healthcare workers should be careful when handling needles. Hepatitis C also can be contracted by getting a tattoo or body piercing if the tools aren't clean.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but the virus can be treated with medicine. If untreated, it can cause cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, which can be life-threatening. Hepatitis C is the number-one reason for liver transplants.
Hepatitis D may occur along with the hepatitis B virus. The hepatitis B vaccine also guards against D.