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What is Viral Hepatitis?

Viral hepatitis is an infection of the liver. There are several different viruses that cause hepatitis. They are called hepatitis A , B , C , D, and E viruses. The viruses are transmitted in different ways. Complications include chronic liver disease, liver failure, and liver cancer .

© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV), which is usually found in the stool (bowel movements) of infected people. It is spread by:

  • Putting something in your mouth that has been infected with the hepatitis A virus
  • Drinking water contaminated by raw sewage
  • Eating food contaminated by the hepatitis A virus, especially if it has not been properly cooked
  • Eating raw or partially cooked shellfish contaminated by raw sewage ...

It is possible to develop viral hepatitis with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing viral hepatitis. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for hepatitis vary, depending on the type of hepatitis.

People at Greater Risk

  • Infants born to mothers with hepatitis B or C
  • Children in daycare centers
  • Childcare workers who change diapers or toilet train children
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People who have anal sex
  • People who have multiple sex partners
  • People who inject illicit drugs and share needles

Lifestyle Factors

  • Close contact with someone who has the disease
  • Using household...
  • Hepatitis A —This infection may or may not cause symptoms. Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children. Incubation is from 15-45 days. Hepatitis A does not progress to chronic liver disease.
  • Hepatitis B —With this form of hepatitis, symptoms usually appear within 25-180 days following exposure to the virus. Hepatitis B may progress to carrier state or chronic liver disease.
  • Hepatitis C —About 80% of people with hepatitis C have no symptoms. Over time, however, the disease can cause serious liver damage. Hepatitis C may progress to chronic hepatitis. Incubation is from 15-60 days.

Symptoms common to all types of viral hepatitis include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain or...

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam.

Tests to diagnose hepatitis may include the following:

  • Blood tests—Your blood is checked for the presence of hepatitis antigens and antibodies. Antigens are foreign proteins that are part of the hepatitis viruses. Antibodies are proteins that your body has made to fight the infectious agents.
  • Liver function studies—The levels of various liver enzymes, bilirubin, and clotting factors in your blood are measured to determine how your liver is functioning.
  • Liver biopsy —A sample of liver tissue is removed and examined under a microscope.

Placement of Liver Biopsy Needle
Placement of Liver Biopsy Needle
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Hepatitis is a contagious disease that is preventable. Basic preventive principles include avoiding contact with other people’s blood or bodily fluids and practicing good sanitation. In addition, vaccines are available to prevent some types of hepatitis. They are given to people at high risk of contracting the disease.

Avoid Contact With Blood and Bodily Fluids

Infected blood and bodily fluids can spread hepatitis. To avoid contact:

  • Do not inject illicit drugs , especially with shared needles. Seek help to stop using drugs.
  • Do not have sex with partners who have hepatitis or other sexually transmitted diseases .
  • Practice safe sex (use latex condoms ) or abstain from sex.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners. A mutually monogamous relationship is...

American Liver Foundation (ALF)


75 Maiden Lane, Suite 603
New York, NY 10038



Internet Address:

Description of Services Provided:

The American Liver Foundation provides educational materials to the public and healthcare professionals. Through a network of local chapters, it offers support groups. The foundation supports research into the cure and prevention of liver diseases.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, Georgia 30333



Internet Address:

Description of Services Provided:

The CDC provides educational materials. Its mission is to protect the...

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