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Viral hepatitis

Hepatitis is a serious inflammation of the liver, usually due to a virus. It can also be caused by an overactive immune system, and from drugs, alcohol, chemicals, and environmental toxins. In the United States, viral hepatitis usually appears as type A, B, or C. Two other types, D and E, are rare in the U.S.

Type A is the most common form of viral hepatitis. It often affects school-aged children. The disease is usually transmitted when someone ingests fecal matter through contaminated food or water. You can also get hepatitis A by having sex with someone who has the virus. A person who has hepatitis A can be contagious before they even know they have the disease. Unlike other forms of viral hepatitis, the virus does not stay in your body once you recover. The best way to prevent hepatitis A is with a vaccine and good hygiene.

Hepatitis types B and C affect people of all ages. Most people who become infected with hepatitis B get rid of the virus within 6 months. This type of short infection is known as an "acute" case of hepatitis B. About 10% of people infected with the hepatitis B virus develop a chronic, life-long infection. People with chronic infection may or may not have symptoms. Those who do not develop symptoms are referred to as carriers. You can get hepatitis B through contact with infected blood and body fluids. Having chronic hepatitis B increases your chance of permanent liver damage, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer. There is a vaccine to prevent hepatitis B.

Anyone who has chronic hepatitis B is also susceptible to infection with another strain of viral hepatitis known as hepatitis D (formerly called delta virus). Hepatitis D virus can only infect cells if the hepatitis B virus (HBV) is present. People who use IV drugs are at greatest risk. Being infected with both hepatitis B and D raises the risk of developing cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Hepatitis C is usually spread through contact with infected blood, as when IV drug users share needles. It can be either acute (a short-term infection) or become chronic and even life threatening. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

Hepatitis E is rare in the United States. It is spread through ingesting food or water contaminated with feces. There is no vaccine for hepatitis E. The only way to prevent the disease is to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.

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Review Date: 10/19/2015  

Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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