Hepatitis ABC’s

Hep·a·ti·tis is a Greek compound word made from hêpar, which translates to liver, and the ending -itis, which means inflammation. The human body can develop hepatitis (AKA, liver inflammation) in a variety of ways: through disorders where the immune system mistakenly attacks the liver, via chronic overconsumption of alcohol, or by catching a hepatitis virus.

Upwards of 3 million Americans are estimated to be living with viral hepatitis, and of those, half don’t even know they have it. And though it receives much less airtime, the hep C virus is 4 times more prevalent than HIV in the U.S.

Left untreated, hepatitis usually leads to the development of cir·rho·sis, in which scar tissue steadily replaces healthy cells and the liver sustains permanent scarring. Unfortunately, that irreversible damage often leads to the development of liver cancer or another terminal liver disease, which kill millions across the globe every year.

Here’s the good news: viral hepatitis is preventable and treatable and HEP provides those services for free.

But we can’t give people services they don’t know to seek out, so please share the information on this page far and wide to help us spread the word! As discussed above, there are multiple ways to get hepatitis, but in accordance with our origination as a support network for people living with viral hepatitis, that is our information specialty.

Whether you’re already familiar with hepatitis A, B, and C or you’re just now learning there’s more than one hepatitis virus, scroll onward for a deeper dive into the virus subtypes ⬇️

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A can be easily prevented by a two-dose vaccine series. For people who have not been vaccinated, it can be transmitted by consuming contaminated food or water, so washing your hands and vegetables thoroughly are also important prevention strategies. It can but is rarely transmitted through blood exposure.

Children who contract hepatitis A are usually not symptomatic, but most adults who get hepatitis A will develop symptoms – often fatigue, brainfog, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), and/or have abdominal pain/distress. Infection can last weeks to months and can require hospitalization. Most infections lead to hepatitis A immunity. However, there are rare cases where hepatitis A can lead to liver failure and death.

Outbreaks across the US have been cropping up often among: individuals who engage in anal, perianal, and anal-oral sex; communities without ready access to clean and running water, hygiene, or bathroom facilities; those living in congregate living facilities including but not limited to jails and prisons; and in restaurants where food handlers may knowingly or unknowingly have hepatitis A. Individuals who often travel outside the US may also be at increased risk of contracting hepatitis A.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is considered both a bloodborne pathogen as well as a sexually transmissible virus. Rates of hepatitis B infection have been significantly reduced in the U.S. and in other countries where the health infrastructure is able to support health education, vaccination efforts, and post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent mother-to-newborn transmission.

However, rates of hepatitis B exposure are steadily on the rise, often occurring in communities that are disproportionately impacted by anti-vaccine misinformation, systemically-perpetuated distrust in healthcare, and/or communities impacted by widespread stigmatization and marginalization.

These communities may include (but not limited to): people who inject drugs, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people of color especially within refugee and immigrant communities.

It is estimated that only 25% of individuals living with hepatitis B have been diagnosed in the U.S. Though there is no cure for hepatitis B, there are medications that can help slow the impacts of the virus on the liver and reduce the rates of transmission once detected.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C (also called HCV) is a blood-borne viral infection which can, over decades, lead to liver fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis, and in some patients, liver cancer and death. It is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, and in rare cases, sexual transmission.

Approximately 4 million Americans have chronic hepatitis C; however, only 25 to 30% have been diagnosed. The diagnosis is made by specific laboratory (blood) testing. Liver biopsy may be recommended to assess the degree of fibrosis and need for treatment. Hepatitis C is curable and treatment for most people is 12 weeks, although some people can achieve cure with only 8 weeks of treatment and others may require 24 weeks.

Cure rates for almost all patients range from 90-100%, depending on the hepatitis C genotype (strain) and severity of liver disease. Previously, treatment consisted of pegylated interferon and ribavirin, which resulted in viral clearance in approximately 50% of those patients treated. Fortunately for patients, none of regimens used to cure hepatitis C today include interferon.