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The ABCs of Hepatitis

You may have heard a lot about hepatitis C because of the recent outbreak at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup. Our disease investigation continues for this incident. See the updated test results from that outbreak. Over the past few weeks, we’ve taken a closer look at hepatitis C:

Other types of the hepatitis virus exist. Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common types of the virus. (Hepatitis D and E viruses also exist.) In this blog post, we’ll explore the differences and similarities of hepatitis A, B and C.

What the three virus types have in common, and how they are different.

The word hepatitis means inflamed liver. Viruses, chemicals, medications, and toxins can cause liver inflammation. Separate viruses cause hepatitis A, B and C.

Hepatitis A, B and C can cause similar symptoms:

  • Fever.
  • Fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Dark urine.
  • Clay-colored stool.
  • Joint pain.
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Adults with hepatitis A usually have these symptoms. People with hepatitis B and C don’t usually show symptoms. Also hepatitis A is an infection that makes you very sick for several days or even weeks, but then it’s over. It does not become a chronic condition. Hepatitis B becomes chronic in 90% of infants and 5-10% of adults. That’s why immunizing babies against this virus is so important. Hepatitis C becomes chronic in 75-80% of people infected.

Tracking down hepatitis B and C gets tricky because many people don’t show symptoms and don’t know they’re infected. If you have an acute—or newly acquired—infection, symptoms might come on anywhere from two weeks to six months after exposure. If the infection is chronic—lasting longer than six months—you might not show symptoms until decades later. Chronic viral hepatitis can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and sometimes liver cancer. That’s why it’s very important for people who are at risk to be screened.

   Hepatitis A  Hepatitis B  Hepatitis C
 Key facts
  • Effective vaccine is available.
  • Outbreaks still occur in the United States.
  • Common in many countries, especially those without modern sanitation.
  • About two in three people with hepatitis B do not know they are infected.
  • One in 12 Asian Americans has chronic hepatitis B.
  • Hepatitis B is a leading cause of liver cancer.
  • About 50% of people with hepatitis C do not know they are infected.
  • Three in four people with hepatitis C were born between 1945-1965.
  • Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver transplants and liver cancer.

Here’s an overview of hepatitis A, B, and C. Information adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you have a chronic hepatitis infection, your healthcare provider will discuss your options with you. Not sure if you’re at risk for hepatitis? Take a five-minute online test to see if you are. Learn more about the differences and similarities of hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.

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