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Facts about viral hepatitis on World Hepatitis Day

Last Modified: July 28, 2023

Diseases & Disorders


World Hepatitis Day is observed every July 28 to raise awareness about viral hepatitis and how it affects millions of people worldwide every year. The date honors the birthday of Dr. Baruch Blumberg, who first discovered the hepatitis B virus in 1967 and developed the first hepatitis B vaccine two years later.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), viral hepatitis affects more than 354 million people worldwide, causing both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) liver disease. In honor of the mission of World Hepatitis Day, let’s learn more about the common types of hepatitis, symptoms and prevention strategies.

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a disease that causes inflammation of the liver and interferes with its normal function. Hepatitis can be caused by infection (usually by a virus), excessive alcohol use, medicine or a problem with the immune system.

The three most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Viral hepatitis is contagious. All three types of viral hepatitis (A, B, and C) can be spread through contact with body fluids. Hepatitis A can also spread when people consume food or water contaminated by stool (feces) containing the virus.

Common types of viral hepatitis

Hepatitis A is spread by food or water that has the virus. This type doesn't lead to long-term liver problems. You can be infected with hepatitis A only once. After that, you have lifelong immunity to the virus and can't get the disease again. Infection can be prevented by getting immunized with the hepatitis A vaccine. There is no treatment for hepatitis A other than rest, a balanced diet, and avoiding alcohol.

Hepatitis B is spread through infected blood, semen or other body fluids during sex. It can be passed from mother to baby during childbirth. It's also spread by sharing needles to inject drugs. Most people who contract hepatitis B get better after 4 to 8 weeks and will not get the virus again. However, if it stays in your body for a long time, it can cause serious liver damage.

Hepatitis C is most commonly spread by sharing needles for drug use. It is sometimes spread through infected blood, semen or other body fluids during sex. Most people who contract hepatitis C have a long-term infection, which can sometimes cause severe liver damage.

Symptoms of hepatitis

Symptoms of hepatitis can last for weeks to months. They include:

  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Weight loss and lack of appetite
  • Discomfort in the upper right abdomen
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Brownish urine
  • Fatigue

Some types of hepatitis can cause serious, long-term complications, such as severe and permanent liver damage.

How can you care for yourself when you have hepatitis?

A doctor will diagnose hepatitis based on a physical exam and blood tests. Be sure to follow your provider’s directions for treatment and care. Here are a few things you can do to help yourself while you recover.

  • Be safe with medicines. If your doctor prescribes antiviral medicine, take it exactly as directed. Do not stop or change a medicine without talking to your doctor first.
  • Lower your activity to match your energy.
  • Avoid alcohol for as long as your doctor says. Alcohol can make liver problems worse. Tell your doctor if you need help to quit. Counseling, support groups, and sometimes medicines can help you stay sober.
  • Make sure your doctor knows all the medicines you take. Do not take any new medicines unless your doctor says it is okay.
  • Follow your doctor's advice about your diet.
  • If you have itchy skin, keep cool, stay out of the sun. Try to wear cotton clothing. Talk to your doctor about medicines that can be used for itching.

How can you prevent hepatitis A?

  • Always wash your hands after you use the bathroom and before you touch food.
  • If you have been exposed to someone who may have hepatitis A, ask your doctor about a shot of immune globulin (also called gamma globulin). It can help your body fight the infection.

How can you prevent hepatitis B?

The hepatitis B vaccine is the best way to prevent infection. Adults ages 19 to 59 and all babies, children, and teenagers should be vaccinated. You can do things to help avoid an infection. Use condoms during sex. Wear protective gloves if you have to touch blood. And don't share toothbrushes or razors.

How can you prevent hepatitis C?

There is no vaccine to prevent the disease. Anyone who has hepatitis C can spread the virus to someone else. You can take steps to make infection less likely.

  • Don't share needles to inject drugs.
  • Make sure all tools and supplies are sterilized if you get a tattoo or body piercing or have acupuncture.
  • Don't share anything that might have infected blood on it. This may include a toothbrush, razor, or nail clippers.
  • Use latex condoms during sex if you have hepatitis C. Also use latex condoms if you have multiple sex partners or a sexually transmitted infection.

Ways to prevent spreading hepatitis B or C

If you do become infected with hepatitis B or C, there are several precautions you should take to prevent spreading the infection to those around you.

  • Tell the people you live with or have sex with about your illness as soon as you can.
  • Don't donate blood or blood products, organs, semen, or eggs (ova).
  • Stop all sexual activity or use latex condoms until your doctor tells you that you can no longer give the virus to others. Avoid anal contact with a sex partner while you are infected.
  • Don't share your personal items including razors, toothbrushes, towels, and nail files.
  • Tell your doctor, dentist, and anyone else who may come in contact with your blood about your illness.
  • If you are pregnant, tell the doctor who will deliver your baby about your illness. If you have hepatitis B, be sure your baby gets medicine to prevent infection. This should start right after birth.
  • Clean or carefully get rid of anything that has your blood on it including clothing and sanitary pads.
  • Make sure to clean surfaces that have your blood or any other body fluid on them, such as semen and menstrual blood, using a solution of bleach and water. Be sure to clean toilet seats, countertops, and floors.








Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.

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