World Hepatitis Day will be observed on Wednesday, July 28, which makes this a good time to learn more about hepatitis.
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver, usually caused by specific viruses. The five main strains of the hepatitis virus are referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. While they all cause liver disease, they differ in geographic prevalence, severity of illness and prevention methods.
In the U.S., the most common forms are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Hepatitis A is highly contagious, and it spreads through contact with contaminated food or water, or from close contact with a person who is infected or object that's infected. Unlike other types of viral hepatitis, hepatitis A does not cause long-term liver damage, and it doesn't become chronic. Mild cases of hepatitis A don't require treatment, and most people who are infected recover completely with no permanent liver damage. Practicing good hygiene, including frequent hand-washing, is one of the best ways to protect against hepatitis A. Vaccines are available for people most at risk.
Hepatitis B is passed from person to person through blood, semen or other bodily fluids. It does not spread by sneezing or coughing. For some people, hepatitis B infection becomes chronic, which increases their risk of developing liver failure, liver cancer or cirrhosis. The younger people are when they get hepatitis B, particularly newborns or children younger than 5, the higher the risk of the infection becoming chronic. Chronic infection may go undetected for decades until a person becomes seriously ill from liver disease. A vaccine can prevent hepatitis B, but there's no cure if you have the condition. Hepatitis B is a common reason for liver transplants in the U.S.
Hepatitis C is transmitted primarily by infected blood, and it also is a common reason for liver transplants in the U.S. Hepatitis C usually is curable with oral medications taken every day for two to six months, but many people don't know they're infected because they have no symptoms, which can take decades to appear. Hepatitis C infection that continues over many years can cause significant complications, including cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all adults be screened for hepatitis C, even those without symptoms or known liver disease.