You may have heard of hepatitis C, a virus that spreads easily among intravenous drug users from using needles unsafely. But hepatitis is not reserved only for people exposed to contaminated needles - anyone can get it. “Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver, which is typically caused by a virus. Hepatitis A, B, and C are the most common viruses, but there’s also D, E, and more. And it's more common than you think. Four hundred million people worldwide have chronic viral hepatitis and the disease is the eighth largest cause of death globally. Every year, about 17,000 new cases of hepatitis C crop up in the United States.
Each type of hepatitis can be contracted differently. Hepatitis A can come from contaminated food or water. It causes nausea, fever, and jaundice, a yellowing of the eyes and skin. But most people recover in weeks or months with no lasting liver damage. Other viruses, like hepatitis B and C, can trigger chronic infections that cause serious liver damage, like cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.
Hepatitis B and C are transmitted when an infected person’s blood enters a healthy person’s bloodstream. This can be done through contaminated needles or accidental needlesticks in healthcare workers. Hepatitis B can also be transmitted from mother to baby, or via sex.
Antiviral drugs and other treatments can help prevent liver disease in people with hepatitis B, but usually can’t cure the infection. But newer antiviral drugs can cure hepatitis C completely. Watch the video to learn more.