Hepatitis B/C


What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a liver disease.

You need a healthy liver. The liver does many things to keep you alive. The liver fights infections and stops bleeding. It removes drugs and other poisons from your blood. The liver also stores energy for when you need it. Hepatitis B is a virus which can cause inflammation of the liver. Inflammation over a prolonged period of time may lead to cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver which may lead to liver failure.


What causes hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is caused by a virus.

A virus is a germ that causes sickness. (For example, the flu is caused by a virus.) People can pass viruses to each other. The virus that causes hepatitis B is called the hepatitis B virus.


How could I get hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B spreads by contact with an infected person's blood, semen, or other body fluid.

You could get hepatitis B by

  • having sex with an infected person without using a condom
  • sharing drug needles
  • having a tattoo or body piercing done with dirty tools that were used on someone else
  • getting pricked with a needle that has infected blood on it (health care workers can get hepatitis B this way)
  • living with someone who has hepatitis B
  • sharing a toothbrush or razor with an infected person
  • traveling to countries where hepatitis B is common

An infected woman can give hepatitis B to her baby at birth.

You can NOT get hepatitis B by

  • shaking hands with an infected person
  • hugging an infected person
  • sitting next to an infected person

What are the symptoms?

Hepatitis B can make you feel like you have the flu.

You might:

  • feel tired
  • feel sick to your stomach
  • have a fever
  • not want to eat
  • have stomach pain
  • have diarrhea

Some people have:

  • dark yellow urine
  • light-colored stools
  • yellowish eyes and skin
  • Some people don’t have any symptoms.

If you have symptoms or think you might have hepatitis B, go to a doctor.


What are the tests for hepatitis B?

To check for hepatitis B, the doctor will test your blood. These tests show if you have hepatitis B and how serious it is.

The doctor may also do a liver biopsy.

A biopsy (BYE-op-see) is a simple test. The doctor removes a tiny piece of your liver through a needle. The doctor checks the piece of liver for signs of hepatitis B and liver damage.


How is hepatitis B treated?

Treatment for hepatitis B may involve

  • A drug called interferon (in-ter-FEAR-on). It is given through shots. Most people are treated for 4 months.
  • A drug called lamivudine (la-MIV-you-deen). You take it by mouth once a day.
  • Hepatitis B is treated through shots of medicine.
  • A drug called adefovir dipivoxil (uh-DEH-foh-veer dih-pih-VOX-ill). You take it by mouth once a day. Other medications are now available for the treatment of Hepatitis B, and new medications are being investigated. Ask your doctor if these or other medicines are right for you.
  • Surgery. Over time, hepatitis B may cause can lead to cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. If that happens, the liver may stop functioning and you may need a new liver. The surgery is called a liver transplant. It involves taking out the old, damaged liver and putting in a new, healthy one from a donor.

How can I protect myself?

You can get the hepatitis B vaccine.

A vaccine is a drug that you take when you are healthy that keeps you from getting sick. Vaccines teach your body to attack certain viruses, like the hepatitis B virus.

The hepatitis B vaccine is usually given through three shots. All babies should get the vaccine. Infants get the first shot within 12 hours after birth. They get the second shot at age 1 to 2 months and the third shot between ages 6 and 18 months.

Older children and adults can get the vaccine, too. They get three shots over 6 months. Children who have not had the vaccine should get it.

You need all of the shots to be protected. If you are traveling to other countries, make sure you get all the shots before you go. If you miss a shot, call your doctor or clinic right away to set up a new appointment.

Vaccines protect you from getting hepatitis B.

You can also protect yourself and others from hepatitis B if you

People who touch blood at work should wear gloves to protect themselves from hepatitis B.

  • use a condom when you have sex
  • don’t share drug needles with anyone
  • wear gloves if you have to touch anyone’s blood
  • don’t use an infected person’s toothbrush, razor, or anything else that could have blood on it
  • make sure any tattooing or body piercing is done with clean tools

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a liver disease.

You need a healthy liver. The liver does many things to keep you alive. The liver fights infections and stops bleeding. It removes drugs and other poisons from your blood. The liver also stores energy for when you need it. Hepatitis C is a virus which can cause inflammation of the liver. Inflammation over a prolonged period of time may lead to cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver which may lead to liver failure. Hepatitis C is a chronic illness which has few symptoms at its onset, often delaying the diagnosis by many years.


What causes hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is caused by a virus.

A virus is a germ that causes sickness. (For example, the flu is caused by a virus.) People can pass viruses to each other. The virus that causes hepatitis C is called the hepatitis C virus.


How could I get hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is spread by contact with an infected person's blood.

You could get hepatitis C by:

  • you could get hepatitis C by sharing drug needles.
  • getting pricked with a needle that has infected blood on it (hospital workers can get hepatitis C this way)
  • having sex with an infected person, especially if you or your partner has other sexually transmitted diseases, though this is less common then in Hepatitis B infection
  • being born to a mother with hepatitis C
  • In rare cases, you could get hepatitis C by getting a tattoo or body piercing with unsterilized, dirty tools
  • other cases of transmission also include avoid sharing toothbrushes or razors with an infected individual

You can NOT get hepatitis C by:

  • shaking hands with an infected person
  • hugging an infected person
  • kissing an infected person
  • sitting next to an infected person

Could I get hepatitis C from a blood transfusion?

If you had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, you might have hepatitis C.

Before 1992, doctors could not check blood for hepatitis C, and some people received infected blood. If you had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, ask a doctor to test you for hepatitis C. (See "What are the tests for hepatitis C?")
Illustration of a Doctor talking to a patient.

A doctor can test you for hepatitis C.


What are the symptoms?

Many people with hepatitis C don't have symptoms.

However, some people with hepatitis C feel like they have the flu.

So, you might:

  • feel tired
  • feel sick to your stomach
  • have a fever
  • might not want to eat, have stomach pain or diarrhea
  • Some people have dark yellow urine light-colored stools
  • yellowish eyes and skin

If you have symptoms or think you might have hepatitis C, go to a doctor.


What are the tests for hepatitis C?

To check for hepatitis C, the doctor will test your blood.

These tests show if you have hepatitis C and how serious it is.

The doctor may also do a liver biopsy.

A biopsy (BYE-op-see) is a simple test. The doctor removes a tiny piece of your liver through a needle. The doctor checks the piece of liver for signs of hepatitis C and liver damage.


How is hepatitis C treated?

Most types of Hepatitis C are now treated with a combination of oral medications, without Interferon.  These newer treatment are extremely effective in curing most Hepatitis C (~95%), even in patients who have failed previous treatment regimens, with minimal if any side effects.  There has truly been a revolution in the treatment of Hepatitis C, talk to your physician about Hepatitis C treatment today.


How can I protect myself?

  • You can protect yourself and others from hepatitis C.
  • If you inject drugs, use your own needles.
  • Don't share drug needles with anyone.
  • Wear gloves if you have to touch anyone's blood.
  • If you have several sex partners, use a condom during sex.
  • Don't use an infected person's toothbrush, razor, or anything else that could have blood on it.
  • If you get a tattoo or body piercing, make sure it is done with clean tools.
  • If you have hepatitis C, don't give your blood or plasma. The person who receives it could become infected with the virus.
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