• By Deborah Balzer

Infectious Diseases A-Z: Increasing hepatitis infections

April 23, 2018

hepatitis C virus written on blue background with pills, syringe and stethoscope

Hepatitis, a disease characterized by inflammation of the liver, affects millions of Americans. There are three common forms:

  • Hepatitis A
    This highly contagious form is spread person to person through contact with a fecally contaminated environment. The CDC is working with many communities where hepatitis A outbreaks continue, especially among homeless people, those who use injection and noninjection drugs, and their close direct contacts.
  • Hepatitis B
    This form is spread through bodily fluid, such as blood or semen, infected with the virus. Common ways the virus is transmitted include birth, sexual activity and drug injection equipment.
  • Hepatitis C
    This form is transmitted primarily by blood infected with the virus. An estimated 3.5 million people in the U.S. have chronic hepatitis C ─ sometimes leading to liver damage. This is a common reason for liver transplants in the U.S.

Watch: Animation of hepatitis C virus in liver.

Hepatitis infections, especially hepatitis C, have increased, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report looked at trends of hepatitis in the U.S. from 2001 to 2016 and reported cases of hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections in 2016.

"It is unfortunate that the number of infections with hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C are increasing in the U.S.," says Dr. Stacey Rizza, an infectious diseases specialist at Mayo Clinic. "Fortunately, there are effective vaccines available to prevent hepatitis A and hepatitis B infections, and anyone at risk should be vaccinated."

Dr. Rizza says there still is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but people who are at risk of infection, or baby boomers born from 1945 to 1965, should be screened for hepatitis C. "If people are infected, they should seek care from their physician," says Dr. Rizza. "There are now excellent treatment options for hepatitis C infection."

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