Viral Hepatitis

The term "hepatitis" means inflammation of the liver, which can be due to a variety of causes, but usually refers to a group of viral infections that affect the liver.  The liver is one of the most important organs in the body because it filters your blood.  The most common types of viral hepatitis in the United States are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis A virus (HAV). It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person eats food contaminated with a small amount of feces. A person can also get hepatitis A from touching objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces of an infected person.  Click here for recent hepatitis A outbreak information.

More than 80% of adults with hepatitis A have symptoms. Most children do not have symptoms. A person cannot be infected with hepatitis A twice. Frequent hand washing with soap and water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, and before eating or preparing food can help prevent the spread of hepatitis A. The best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination with the hepatitis A vaccine. Vaccination is recommended for all children, for travelers to certain countries, and for people at high risk for infection with the virus. Although anyone can get hepatitis A from food sources, certain groups of people are at higher risk, such as those who:

  • Travel to or live in countries where hepatitis A is common
  • Are men who have sexual contact with other men
  • Have clotting-factor disorders, such as hemophilia
  • Live with someone who has hepatitis A
  • Have oral-anal sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Hepatitis B is transmitted when blood, semen, or another body fluid from a person infected with the hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact; sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment; or from mother to baby at birth.

The hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body at least 7 days. During that time, the virus can still cause infection if it enters the body of a person who is not infected.

For some people, hepatitis B is an acute, or short-term, illness but for others, it can become a long-term, chronic infection. About 2%–6% of adults and 90% of infected infants become chronically infected. Chronic hepatitis B can lead to serious health issues, like cirrhosis or liver cancer. The best way to prevent hepatitis B is by getting the hepatitis B vaccine. The hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective and is usually given as 3 shots over a 6-month period. Although anyone can get hepatitis B, increased risk factors include:

  • Sex with an infected person
  • Multiple sex partners
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Men who have sexual contact with other men
  • Injecting drugs or sharing needles, syringes, or other drug equipment
  • Living with a person who has hepatitis B
  • Infants born to infected mothers
  • Exposure to blood on the job
  • Hemodialysis patients
  • Travelers to countries with moderate to high rates of hepatitis B

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges from an acute illness lasting a few weeks to a chronic, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. It results from infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person.

  • Acute hepatitis C virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the hepatitis C virus. In 80% of people, acute infection leads to chronic infection.
  • Chronic hepatitis C virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the hepatitis C virus remains in a person’s body. Hepatitis C virus infection can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.

The best way to prevent hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs. The hepatitis C virus can survive outside the body at room temperature for up to 2 months! Some countries have a higher rate of hepatitis C, which could increase a person’s exposure risk when traveling to these countries. Some people are at increased risk for hepatitis C, including:

  • Recipients of donated blood, blood products/clotting factors, and organs (once a common means of transmission but now rare in the United States since blood screening became available in 1992)
  • People born between 1945 – 1965 due to changes in universal precautions in health care facilities
  • People who received body piercings or tattoos in unregulated facilities with non-sterile equipment
  • Persons on dialysis
  • Current or past injection or intranasal drug use
  • Health care workers with needle-stick injuries
  • HIV-infected persons
  • Children born to mothers infected with the hepatitis C virus.

Patient Assistance Programs

Anyone with hepatitis C may benefit from a patient assistance program.

Those with HIV and hepatitis C can use the Virginia Department of Health treatment assistance program, the VA Medication Assistance Program (VA MAP).  This program provides Harvoni, Sovaldi, Viekira Pak and if needed, ribavirin, and payments for associated medical care and labs for uninsured clients or those whose insurance does not cover those medications.

Last Updated: November 15, 2022