GI Problems FAQs

Hepatitis


What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis. The most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

What is the difference between Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C are diseases caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms, they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently. Hepatitis A appears only as an acute or newly occurring infection and does not become chronic. People with Hepatitis A usually improve without treatment. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C can also begin as acute infections, but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver problems. There are vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B; however, there is not one for Hepatitis C. If a person has had one type of viral hepatitis in the past, it is still possible to get the other types.

What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. It results from infection with the Hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B can be either “acute” or “chronic.”

Acute Hepatitis B virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis B virus. Acute infection can — but does not always — lead to chronic infection.

Chronic Hepatitis B virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the Hepatitis B virus remains in a person’s body.

What is hepatitis C? 
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is found in the blood of persons who have this disease. HCV is spread by contact with the blood of an infected person. 
What blood tests are available to check for hepatitis C?

  • Who should get tested for hepatitis C?
    • persons who ever injected illegal drugs, including those who injected once or a few times many years ago
    • persons who were treated for clotting problems with a blood product made before 1987 when more advanced methods for manufacturing the products were developed
    • persons who were notified that they received blood from a donor who later tested positive for hepatitis C
    • persons who received a blood transfusion or solid organ transplant before July 1992 when better testing of blood donors became available
    • long-term hemodialysis patients
    • persons who have signs or symptoms of liver disease (e.g., abnormal liver enzyme tests)
    • healthcare workers after exposures (e.g., needle sticks or splashes to the eye ) to HCV-positive blood on the job
    • children born to HCV-positive women

What is the next step if you have a confirmed positive anti-HCV test? 
Measure the level of ALT ( alanine aminotransferase, a liver enzyme) in the blood. An elevated ALT indicates inflammation of the liver and you should be checked further for chronic (long-term) liver disease and possible treatment. The evaluation should be done by a healthcare professional familiar with chronic hepatitis C. 
Can you have a normal liver enzyme (e.g., ALT) level and still have chronic hepatitis C? 
Yes. It is common for persons with chronic hepatitis C to have a liver enzyme level that goes up and down, with periodic returns to normal or near normal. Some persons have a liver enzyme level that is normal for over a year but they still have chronic liver disease. If the liver enzyme level is normal, persons should have their enzyme level re-checked several times over a 6 to 12 month period. If the liver enzyme level remains normal, your doctor may check it less frequently, such as once a year.

  • How is HCV spread from one person to another? 
How could a person have gotten hepatitis C? 
HCV is spread primarily by direct contact with human blood. For example, you may have gotten infected with HCV if:
    • you ever injected street drugs, as the needles and/or other drug “works” used to prepare or inject the drug(s) may have had someone else’s blood that contained HCV on them.
    • you received blood, blood products, or solid organs from a donor whose blood contained HCV.
    • you were ever on long-term kidney dialysis as you may have unknowingly shared supplies/equipment that had someone else’s blood on them.
    • you were ever a healthcare worker and had frequent contact with blood on the job, especially accidental needlesticks.
    • your mother had hepatitis C at the time she gave birth to you. During the birth her blood may have gotten into your body.
    • you ever had sex with a person infected with HCV.
    • you lived with someone who was infected with HCV and shared items such as razors or toothbrushes that might have had his/her blood on them.

      Is there any evidence that HCV has been spread during medical or dental procedures done in the United States?
Medical and dental procedures done in most settings in the United States do not pose a risk for the spread of HCV. There have, however, been some reports that HCV has been spread between patients in hemodialysis units where supplies or equipment may have been shared between patients. 
Can HCV be spread by sexual activity? 
Yes, but this does not occur very often. See section on counseling for more information on hepatitis C and sexual activity. 
Can HCV be spread by oral sex? 
There is no evidence that HCV has been spread by oral sex. See section on counseling for more information on hepatitis C and sexual activity. 
Can HCV be spread within a household? 
Yes, but this does not occur very often. If HCV is spread within a household, it is most likely due to direct exposure to the blood of an infected household member.

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