Viral hepatitis is the term that describes inflammation of the liver that is caused by a virus. There are actually five types of hepatitis viruses; each one is named after a letter in the alphabet: A, B, C, D and E.
The most common types of viral hepatitis are A, B and C. These three viruses affect millions of people worldwide, causing both short-term illness and long-term liver disease. The World Health Organization estimates 325 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis B or chronic hepatitis C. In 2015, 1.34 million died from viral hepatitis, a number that is almost equal to the number of deaths caused by tuberculosis and HIV combined.
Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are the most common types of viral hepatitis in the United States, and can cause serious health problems, including liver failure and liver cancer. In the U.S., an estimated 3.5 million people are living with hepatitis C in the US and an estimated 850,000 are living with Hepatitis B. Unfortunately, new liver cancer cases and deaths are on the rise in the United States. This increase is believed to be related to infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
Many people are unaware that they have been infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis C, because many people do not have symptoms or feel sick. CDC developed an online Hepatitis Risk Assessment to help determine if you should get tested or vaccinated for viral hepatitis. The assessment takes only five minutes and will provide personalized testing and vaccination recommendations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
Hepatitis A is a short-term disease caused by infection with the hepatitis A virus. Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests the virus from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by solid waste from an infected person. Hepatitis A was once very common in the United States, but now less than 3,000 cases are estimated to occur every year. Hepatitis A does not lead to liver cancer and most people who get infected recover over time with no lasting effects. However, the disease can be fatal for people in poor health or with certain medical conditions.
Hepatitis A is easily prevented with a safe and effective vaccine, which is believed to have caused the dramatic decline in new cases in recent years. The vaccine is recommended for all children at one year of age and for adults who may be at risk, including people traveling to certain international countries.
Hepatitis B is a liver disease that results after infection with the hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B is common in many parts of the world, including Asia, the Pacific Islands and Africa. Like Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B is also preventable with a vaccine. The hepatitis B virus can be passed from an infected woman to her baby at birth, if her baby does not receive the hepatitis B vaccine. As a result, the hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants at birth.
Unfortunately, many people got infected with hepatitis B before the vaccine was widely available. This is why CDC recommends anyone born in areas where hepatitis B is common, or who have parents who were born in these regions, get tested for hepatitis B. Treatments are available that can delay or reduce the risk of developing liver cancer.
Hepatitis C is a liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus. For reasons that are not entirely understood, people born from 1945 to 1965 are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other age groups. In the past, hepatitis C was spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. However, widespread screening of the blood supply in the United States began in 1990.The hepatitis C virus was virtually eliminated from the blood supply by 1992. Today, most people become infected with hepatitis C by sharing needles, syringes, or any other equipment to inject drugs. In fact, rates of new infections have been on the rise since 2010 in young people who inject drugs.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Fortunately, new treatments offer a cure for most people. Once diagnosed, most people with hepatitis C can be cured in just 8 to 12 weeks, which reduces their risk for liver cancer.
Find out if you should get tested or vaccinated for viral hepatitis by taking CDC’s quick online Hepatitis Risk Assessment.
For more information visit www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.
- Join the conversation on hepatitis by following @cdchep on Twitter.
- Sign up for email updates from CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis.