Hepatitis: Symptoms, Treatments and Prevention – includes a free patient information PDF!

Download the free patient handout PDF near the end of this article!

Hepatitis is a disease that causes inflammation of the liver. The most common hepatitis virus infections are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. Hepatitis B and C can become long-term infections of the liver and can cause serious liver disease.

How Hepatitis is Spread

There are many ways to get Hepatitis. The Hepatitis A virus lives in the feces of people who are infected. Hepatitis B and C viruses live in body fluids including blood, saliva and semen of infected people.

Hepatitis A is spread by:

  • Having close contact with a person who is infected, including sexual contact
  • Contact with objects, food or water that are contaminated with the feces of an infected person

Hepatitis B and C are spread by:

  • Having sex with an infected person
  • Sharing needles with someone who has the virus
  • Getting accidently cut with an object that has bodily fluid of an infected person
  • Having contact with open sores or blood of an infected person
  • Mothers who are infected giving birth to their baby

Hepatitis B and C are not spread by coughing, sneezing, breastfeeding, hugging, or through food or water.

Symptoms of Hepatitis

Many people who get Hepatitis never have any symptoms.

Some people may get symptoms similar to the flu, such as:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (the skin turns yellow)
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Fever
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Loss of appetite

Symptoms appear between 28-120 days after infection. Symptoms usually last for several weeks, but can last for up to six months.

Vaccination for Hepatitis A

The following people should be vaccinated for Hepatitis A:

  • All children at 1 year of age, and other children in areas where the vaccine is recommended
  • Travelers to areas where Hepatitis A is common (most areas except Canada, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand)
  • Sex partners of infected people and men who have sex with men
  • Persons with clotting-factor disorders or with chronic liver disease
  • Users of certain illicit drugs
  • Anyone who may be in close contact with someone infected or who needs protection

Vaccination for Hepatitis B

The following people should be vaccinated for Hepatitis B:

  • All infants within 12 hours of birth, or children who have not been previously vaccinated
  • Persons who have household contact with someone who is infected with Hepatitis B
  • Persons with HIV infection, chronic liver disease or end-stage renal disease
  • Healthcare and public safety workers who might be exposed to blood
  • Travelers to areas where Hepatitis B is common
  • Sex partners of infected people, men who have sex with men, and persons with an STD
  • Injection drug users
  • Anyone who may be in close contact with someone infected or who needs protection

Diagnosing Hepatitis

Hepatitis A, B, and C can usually be diagnosed through a blood test. Your health care provider may also want to test your liver enzymes.

Hepatitis Treatment

Hepatitis A
Usually does not need treatment and the infection goes away on its own.
There is no risk of Hepatitis A becoming a chronic (long-term) infection.

Hepatitis B and C
Antiviral medications are taken in some cases, and the liver is monitored for any signs of liver disease every 6-12 months. The length of treatment depends on how bad the infection is. A chronic infection from Hepatitis B develops in 90% of all infants and 6-10% of adults who are infected. Chronic infection develops in 55-85% of persons who are infected with Hepatitis C.

Prevention of Hepatitis

You can print copies of this PDF handout for your patients, to reinforce what you have told them.
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Hand Washing
Hepatitis A can be prevented by washing your hands frequently with soap and water and always after going to the bathroom, changing a diaper and before eating.

Cleaning Up Body Fluids
Hepatitis viruses can live on surfaces for a number of days and still cause infection. The infected saliva, semen, fecal matter, or blood does not have to be new to infect someone and should be cleaned up with gloves and bleach.

Vaccination or Immune Globulin
There is a vaccine for Hepatitis A and B, but no vaccine for Hepatitis C. For recent exposure or for pregnant women, immune globulin can be taken to prevent infection. Talk with your health care provider about receiving vaccinations or immune globulin if you think you may have come in contact with the virus.

Safe Sex
Always use a condom if you are not in a mutually monogamous relationship.

Sharing Personal Items
Do not share personal items that break the skin. This includes needles, razors and toothbrushes.

Used with permission from the Community Health Association of Mountain/Plains States (CHAMPS)