WHAT IS IT? Viral hepatitis is inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. All types of viruses — A, B, C, D, and E — cause acute, or short-term, viral hepatitis. B, C, and D can also cause chronic hepatitis, which means it’s long-term (sometimes lifelong). This can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer, and death.
WHAT ARE YOUR CHANCES OF GETTING IT?
* Hep A is spread primarily through food or water contaminated by feces from an infected person, so the risk is higher among international travelers, people who have sexual activity with a person who has hep A, childcare workers, men who have sex with men, and drug users. Oral-to-fecal contact like rimming, is one of the biggest culprits. According to the CDC, cases of hep A are declining in the U.S. In 2014, there were an estimated 2,500 acute hepatitis A infections.
* Hep B is spread through contact with blood from someone with hep B, which can happen either through sex, sharing needles, or blood exchange. Gay and bi men, people having sex with an hep B-positive partner, injection drug users, infants of hep B-positive mothers, and health care workers are among the highest risk groups. There are rare cases where hep B has been transferred by saliva through biting — not by kissing. Hep B is also declining in the U.S., where the CDC reports 2,953 acute cases were reported in 2014. However, there are up to 2.2 million Americans living with chronic hep B.
* Hep C is spread primarily through contact with blood, but can also be transmitted through sexual contact, via childbirth, or through sharing needles. While hep C can be transmitted by vaginal or anal sex, it doesn’t happen very often. Catching it from your partner who’s giving you oral sex is also rare, unless they have fresh piercings or bloody gums. After a long decline, the number of new cases of hep C has been increasing in the U.S., where the CDC reports 2,194 acute cases were reported in 2014. There are estimated to be up to 3.9 million people living with chronic hep C in the U.S.
* Hep D is also spread through contact with infected blood, and only occurs at the same time as infection with hep B or in people who are already infected with hep B (see above).
* Hep E is spread through food or water contaminated by feces from an infected person. it is uncommon in the U.S.
IS THERE A CURE? Hep C can now be cured in as little as 12 weeks. This is particularly good news for those who have both hep C and are HIV-positive, because the CDC reports that liver disease is the leading cause of non-AIDS-related deaths among people with HIV. Hep A and E usually resolve on their own over several weeks, while the others can become chronic. For hep B, drugs approved for treatment include alpha interferon and peginterferon, which slow the replication of the virus in the body while boosting the immune system. People who develop acute hepatitis B can be treated with an antiviral drug such as lamivudine Chronic hep D is usually treated with interferon, although other potential treatments are under study.