You might know that May is Hepatitis Awareness Month — but do you know the basics on hepatitis, including tips for prevention?
There’s a lot to cover, so let’s jump right into the details.
The Basics on Hepatitis
What is Hepatitis, and What Causes It?
Hepatitis is inflammation or swelling of the liver. Many factors can cause hepatitis, including several viruses (covered in more detail below) and drug and alcohol use.
Who Can Get Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is more common than you might think. Even those with healthy immune systems can fall victim to hepatitis infection. Since many cases of hepatitis don’t have symptoms, the disease can go untreated in some people. Other times, the symptoms — appetite loss, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, body aches, fever, and stomach aches — can be confused with flu symptoms.
There are two main categories of viral hepatitis infection — acute or chronic. In acute hepatitis, you’re only affected for weeks or months, then your body rids itself of the infection. In chronic hepatitis, inflammation occurs for 6+ months, so you can infect others and your disease can go dormant, then reactivate. Here are the main hepatitis viruses:
- Hepatitis A and E: these cause acute infection. You can catch these viruses through direct or indirect contact with fecal matter or by eating food handled by a person with contaminated hands.
- Hepatitis B: the most common hepatitis virus, hepatitis B is transmitted by sexual contact, contact with infected blood, or from mother to infant. Hepatitis B infection can lead to hepatitis D infection, which worsens conditions.
- Hepatitis C: when you have direct contact with blood, you risk hepatitis C infection. This often occurs when drug users share needles and injection equipment. A majority of people with hepatitis C infection develop chronic infection.
Effects of Hepatitis
If left untreated, hepatitis can have serious effects, including cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, potentially fatal liver failure, and even liver cancer. Hepatitis B and C have the most potential to become chronic infections that plague individuals for their lifetime. Over 4 million Americans have chronic Hepatitis B or C, but many don’t know they are infected.
Hepatitis prevention is key to stopping the dangerous medical effects of these diseases. Fortunately, there are vaccines to protect individuals against hepatitis A and B. For the hepatitis viruses that are not vaccine-preventable, prevention efforts should be centered around maintaining cleanliness and avoiding direct contact with blood. These measures include using condoms during intercourse.
Get Your Hepatitis Test at ARCpoint Labs
If you’re sexually active, you’re at risk for hepatitis B or C infection. You can monitor your sexual health and catch these diseases early with a hepatitis test at ARCpoint Labs. Our nationwide walk-in facilities allow for discreet testing and produce quick, accurate results. To get started with your hepatitis test, find your nearest ARCpoint Labs!