Hepatitis A and B
When a person's liver becomes inflamed or damaged, that damage is referred to as hepatitis. Viruses that cause damage to the liver are known as hepatitis viruses. These viruses all affect the liver, but are different from each other in that they affect the liver in different ways and are spread from person to person in different ways. To distinguish between the viruses, each one has been labeled with a different letter. In the United States, hepatitis A, B, and C are the most common of the hepatitis viruses. Because these three types of viral hepatitis affect the liver in different ways, a person with hepatitis C can also be infected with either hepatitis A or B. With more than one virus in the liver there is an increased risk for additional liver damage. The best way to prevent this is to become vaccinated for hepatitis A and B.
Hepatitis A is found in the bodily waste of those people who carry the virus. The virus is most commonly spread through contaminated food or water. For example, it can be spread when a person with hepatitis A does not wash their hands after using the toilet and then prepares food for others. The virus can survive easily out of the body and remains active for several hours on hands or eating utensils or in food or liquids kept at room temperature.
Washing your hands thoroughly after going to the toilet, before preparing food, and after handling diapers or condoms will stop the spread of the virus to others.
There is some good news about the hepatitis A virus, though. It does not result in a chronic, or long-term, infection in the majority of people who get it. Although the virus is highly contagious, only a small number of people will get very ill from it. What most people feel is comparable to a cold or flu. They may feel sick or tired for a month or so, but then the body gets rid of it. Other symptoms include fever, weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, joint aches and pains, vomiting, or jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin. Those with pre-existing liver damage or hepatitis C can face more serious versions of these same symptoms.
By far the most reliable protection against this virus is the hepatitis A vaccine. The vaccine is a safe and proven way to build the body's immunity to the virus and keep your liver protected from hepatitis A. People with hepatitis C or with pre-existing liver damage are recommended to become vaccinated for hepatitis A.
Hepatitis B is another virus that affects the liver. Unlike hepatitis A, it is not spread through contaminated food or water. Instead, the virus can be found in body fluids including blood, saliva, semen, and breast milk. The virus can spread when any of these contaminated fluids pass from one person to another. This can happen during sex, or by sharing injection drug equipment, toothbrushes or razors. The virus can also be spread through un-sterilized tattooing or body piercing equipment, from a blood transfusion or from a mother to her child at birth.
Symptoms for hepatitis B may take one to 12 weeks to start. These symptoms include nausea, fatigue, muscle or joint aches, mild fever, loss of appetite, darkening of the urine, or jaundice. A person experiencing these symptoms can be tested for the virus using a specific hepatitis B blood test.
In most people the hepatitis B virus does not turn into a chronic, long-term infection. Instead, the body develops anti-bodies against the virus, which means that once hepatitis B has been fought off the first time, a person will not become infected with it again.
Just like hepatitis A, hepatitis B has a safe and effective vaccine. It is highly recommended that those with hepatitis C be tested and vaccinated for hepatitis B. It is also suggested that those people at high risk of infection be vaccinated as well. These groups include health care workers, people involved in high-risk or unsafe sexual behavior, or people sharing needles or injection drug equipment. A combination vaccine, containing both the hepatitis A and B vaccines, is also available.
The important thing to know about hepatitis A and B is that they are both preventable. If you have hepatitis C or pre-existing liver damage, getting vaccinated for both hepatitis A & B is the best way to remove the threat of additional viruses attacking your liver and helping you focus on coping with your hepatitis C.