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Hepatitis

Learn more about hepatitis viruses and what you can do to protect yourself and others from infection.

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis can be caused by viruses and can lead to serious health consequences. There are several different forms of the virus, including types A, B, C, D, E, and G.

How do you get hepatitis?

The most common types of viral hepatitis in Canada are hepatitis A, B and C. They are all contagious.

Humans are the only reservoir of the Hepatitis A virus (HAV) and therefore are the only source of infection. Transmission occurs through contact with the feces of an infected person either directly (person to person, including sexual activity) or indirectly through the consumption of food or water contaminated with the virus. Transmission through infected blood or blood products has also been reported. There is no medication available to treat HAV but most people recover on their own. An effective vaccine is available to prevent the infection.

Who is at increased risk of contracting HAV:

  • Travellers to regions of the world where there is an intermediate or high level of HAV activity.
  • Close contact with an internationally adopted child from a country with endemic hepatitis A.
  • Household and sexual contacts of an acute hepatitis A case.
  • Residence in certain institutions, such as correctional facilities and those for developmentally challenged individuals.

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) are both spread through contact with contaminated blood, and HBV is also sexually transmitted. Both HBV and HCV can lead to serious liver damage, liver cancer and the need for liver transplantation. In Canada, about 600,000 people are living with HBV and/or HCV.

How can I tell if I am infected?

Not everyone who becomes infected with viral hepatitis displays symptoms of illness. Regardless of the type of hepatitis virus infection, the symptoms of infection are similar. If symptoms of illness develop, it usually occurs many weeks after infection: 2-6 weeks (HAV), 6-22 weeks (HBV), and 2-25 weeks (HCV).  Following infection with a hepatitis virus, people may experience some or all of the following symptoms: fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, joint pain and jaundice (yellowing of skin and white of eyes).

If you think you might have been exposed to a hepatitis virus, see your healthcare provider to have a blood test done.

Hepatitis A, B, C, D, E, G - What's the difference?

Virus How is it spread? What are the symptoms? How can I protect myself?
Hepatitis A

- Commonly transmitted  through consumption of (fecally) contaminated water or food
- Spread through fecal-oral route (i.e. contaminated stool finds its way to a person's mouth when hands are not properly cleaned, or stool with hepatitis A virus contaminates water that is consumed by an individual)
- Sexual contact with an infected individual

 

- Fever
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and white of the eyes)
- Joint pain
- Nausea
- Vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain
- Dark urine
- Fatigue
- Most people with hepatitis A infection recover naturally

- Vaccination, particularly if traveling to areas of high Hep A activity
- Practice good personal hygiene (wash hands after using the washroom, after changing a diaper and before preparing or eating food)
- Practise safer sex

Hepatitis B

- Spread through contact with contaminated blood and organs
- Spread through sexual activity
- Can be passed from mother to child
- Can be passed by sharing personal items with an infected individual (toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers, needles, drug snorting equipment)

- Jaundice
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain
- Dark urine
- Fatigue
-May show no symptoms (at least 30% of serious cases show no symptoms)

- Hepatitis B vaccine
- Practise safer sex
- Avoid sharing items that might be contaminated with blood (toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers, needles, drug snorting equipment)

Hepatitis C

- Spread through contact with contaminated blood or blood products.
- Can be passed from mother to child
- Uncommonly spread through sexual contact
- Can be passed by sharing personal items with an infected individual (toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers, needles, drug snorting equipment)

-The majority of cases show no symptoms
- May show jaundice
- Uneasiness
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain
- Dark urine
- Fatigue

- Avoid sharing items that might be contaminated with blood (toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers, needles, drug snorting equipment)

 

Hepatitis D

- Only occurs in people already infected with hepatitis B virus
- Spread through contact with contaminated blood and rarely through sexual contact
- Can be passed by sharing personal items

- Jaundice
- Loss of appetite
- Pain in the stomach area
- Dark urine
- Fatigue
-May show no symptoms

- Hepatitis B vaccine
- Practise safer sex
- Avoid sharing items that might be contaminated with blood (toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers, needles, drug snorting equipment)

Hepatitis E

- Common in developing countries
- Spread through the fecal-oral route (i.e. contaminated stool finds its way to a person's mouth when hands are not properly cleaned, or stool with hepatitis E virus contaminates water that is consumed by an individual)
- Most often spread through  contaminated water or food
- Can be passed from mother to child, but hepatitis E is more commonly found in adults

- Jaundice
- Uneasiness
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain
- Dark urine
- Fatigue
- 90 % of children infected with Hepatitis E show no symptoms

-  Wash hands properly before and after eating and preparing food
- Be especially conscious when travelling to developing countries

Hepatitis G

- Often found in co-infections with other viruses, such as hepatitis C virus, hepatitis B virus, and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
- Spread through contact with infected blood or blood products
- May be spread by sharing personal items contaminated with the virus
- May be passed from mother to child at birth
- May be spread through sexual activity

Shows no symptoms

- Practise safer sex
- Avoid sharing items that might be contaminated by blood (toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers, needles, drug snorting equipment)

How can I protect myself?

Depending on the type of viral hepatitis, you can reduce your risk of infection by:

  • Washing your hands properly before and after preparing and eating food;
  • Practising safer sex; and,
  • Not sharing personal materials that may come into contact with blood (i.e. needles, razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, etc.).

There are vaccines available to prevent HAV and HBV.  At this time, however, there is no licensed vaccine to protect you from HCV or the other hepatitis infections, so changing behaviours that increase risk is key to protecting yourself from infection and to preventing the spread of infection to others.

What should I do if I think I might have been exposed to viral hepatitis?

If you have engaged in any activity that may have put you at risk of infection, whether recently or in the past, you should see your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Viral hepatitis infections can be diagnosed through a blood test.

There are medications available to treat HBV and HCV. If you do have a hepatitis virus, your healthcare provider can give you information on what treatment might be right for you.

Early diagnosis and treatment can also help to lessen damage to the liver and can prevent you from spreading the virus to others unknowingly. See your healthcare provider to discuss your treatment options.