What is Hepatitis?

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., ACCESS Media Relations Specialist
July 13, 2017

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can lead to scarring, cirrhosis and cancer. Viruses mainly cause hepatitis, though the disease is a consequence of alcohol or drug abuse, other infections, and autoimmune diseases. More than four million Americans have hepatitis, although most do not know it. 

Five Types of Hepatitis

Each type of hepatitis causes acute infections, which are often short-lived and successfully treated. Viruses B and C can progress to chronic hepatitis infections that are far more damaging to the liver. Here are descriptions of the five types, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Hepatitis A is contracted by eating food or drinking water contaminated with feces carrying the virus. The virus is often transmitted by improper food handling, contact with sewage and anal sex.
  • Hepatitis B is mainly contracted during sex or from sharing needles. This strain is the most common cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis.
  • Hepatitis C is spread through contact with blood via contaminated needles including tattoo needles.
  • Hepatitis D can only occur in those already affected with B. It is spread during sex and can be passed on from mother to child.
  • Hepatitis E is the least common viral strain in the United States and, like A, is spread through fecal matter.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis?

Hepatitis often goes unrecognized. However, when detected early, it can be treated. Be sure to contact your doctor if you experience the following symptoms noted on WebMD:

  • Flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fever, weakness and loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Dark urine
  • Light colored stools
  • Jaundice

How can Hepatitis be Prevented?

Immunizations help prevent hepatitis and are available for types A and B. Prevention techniques such as proper hand washing, avoiding used needles and safe sex also greatly reduce the risk and spread of hepatitis.

​To find out where you can get tested, visit ACCESS' website here