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Facts About Hepatitis B and C

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Roughly 1.25 million people in the U.S. are carriers of the Hepatitis B virus, the most common serious liver infection in the world.

According to the World Health Organization, around 2 billion people worldwide have been infected with the HBV virus and nearly 250 million live with chronic infection. The Hepatitis virus is extremely infectious. In fact, it is nearly 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV, the virus which causes AIDS.

Hepatitis B is caused by the HBV virus and attacks the liver, resulting in both inflammation and infection. Sometimes there are signs and other times infection goes unnoticed. While there are two types, acute and chronic, acute Hepatitis B is the most typical strand to affect otherwise healthy adults. For those with an acute infection, the virus gradually disappears on its own without serious complication.

For some, however, Hepatitis B becomes a much more serious and life-threatening problem. Age is one determining factor for whether the infection will be acute or turn into a chronic problem. Young children who become infected are more likely to have a chronic HBV infection. Infants who become infected have a 90% chance of becoming chronically infected. Chronic infections can result in cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.

Approximately only 1% of Hepatitis B cases are deadly.

Fortunately there has been a vaccine for Hepatitis B since 1982 and it is 95% effective in prevention. Typically healthy adults infected with HBV with recover from the infection completely within six months.

The HBV virus is spread through direct (not causal) contact with an infected person, traveling through blood and bodily fluids. Here are a few of the most common ways that infection is spread.

  • Having sex without a condom
  • Getting a piercing, tattoo or acupuncture at a place that does not properly sterilize their tools
  • Sharing items like razors or toothbrushes
  • Needle sharing among drug users
  • Unregulated blood transfusions (before 1992)
  • Transmission from mother to child at birth

There are not always symptoms, but early signs of acute infection may appear one to six months from the time of infection-

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rash
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice)

Hepatitis C
Hepatitis B and C have many similarities, but they also have some differences. Like Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C also affects the liver but is caused by a different virus, HCV, and currently there is no vaccination available for prevention. Hepatitis C also can cause either acute or chronic infection. Acute is generally defined as an infection showing up in the first six months after exposure and only continues in the short-term. Unfortunately, acute HCV leads to chronic Hepatitis C in 75%-85% of all cases.

An estimated 3.2 million people in the United States are affected by chronic Hepatitis C infections. These infections can be deadly in some people, but for many, once diagnosed, Hepatitis C can be managed and monitored, allowing people to live full and healthy lives.

HCV is only transmitted through blood. It is still somewhat unclear if there is a risk of infection through sexual contact, though many researchers believe that if the risk is there are at all, it is a very low one. Casual contact does not spread the virus either and only rarely will a mother pass a Hepatitis C infection to her baby during pregnancy.

Here are some of the most common ways to become infected with Hepatitis C

  • Needle sharing among drug users
  • Having an organ transplant or blood transfusion before 1992 (this is when donated organs and blood started being tested for Hepatitis C)
  • Getting a tattoo or piercing from a needle with infected blood on it as a result of lack of proper cleaning

The majority of people do not have symptoms when they are first infected with Hepatitis C, however, if they do, these are the most common symptoms.

  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Dark colored urine
  • Jaundice
  • Muscle pain