Every 30 seconds, someone loses their life to a hepatitis related illness. With an estimated 400 million people affected by hepatitis worldwide and 1.5 million new cases of hepatitis emerging each year, at Steward, we are committed to providing our community with the necessary resources to prevent, diagnose, and treat any hepatitis related virus.
What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis causes the liver to inflame and swell, and is commonly the result of a viral infection but can also be the result of excessive alcohol consumption or an adverse reaction to medication. The most common forms of hepatitis are hepatitis A (HAV), hepatitis B (HBV), and hepatitis C (HCV). HAV spreads primarily through fecal matter, and is commonly contracted from eating contaminated food or water. HBV and HCV are spread when the bodily fluids of an infected individual enters the body of an uninfected person. This can occur when individuals share needles, razors, or toothbrushes, or when infected blood enters through an open-cut on the skin. While HBV can be spread sexually, this is less common with HCV.
There are many simple ways to prevent hepatitis– ranging from vaccination to washing your hands. Below are recommendations on how to avoid contracting hepatitis A, B, and C.
The number one way to prevent HAV is to get vaccinated. Children should receive their HAV vaccine by their first birthday, and unvaccinated adults should get their HAV shot if they are an active military member, use recreational drugs, have long-term liver disease, are a healthcare professional, work in a daycare, or are traveling to Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central and South America, Mexico, and parts of the Caribbean.
If you are visiting a location where HAV is common, be sure to avoid street food, brush your teeth using bottled water, avoid drinks or cocktails with ice, and don’t order salads or fresh produce that might have been washed with contaminated water.
Vaccination is the best way to prevent an HBV diagnosis. Babies should get their first HBV vaccine shortly after they are born, and receive follow-up doses at two months and when they are between 6 and 18 months old.
If you are an unvaccinated adult, make sure to get vaccinated if you are infected with HIV, have a kidney or long-term liver disease, work in healthcare, have more than one sexual partner, or travel to a country where HBV is common.
Additionally, avoid contact with other people’s bodily fluids– never share toothbrushes or razors, don’t share needles, and make sure to always use latex condoms during sex.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, so to avoid HCV, be sure to use condoms during sex, never share needles, and get tested if your partner is HCV positive.
Hepatitis Symptoms and Diagnosis
Common symptoms of HAV and HBV include yellow skin or eyes (jaundice), loss of appetite, fatigue, stomach pain, vomiting, and dark urine. While HCV does not usually present physically, those who do show symptoms experience jaundice, loss of appetite, fever, nausea, and vomiting.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your physician. Doctors can assess your symptoms, perform blood tests, and administer imaging such as an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI to diagnose hepatitis.
Additionally, if you are asymptomatic but are unvaccinated for HAV or HBV, have traveled to a location where hepatitis is common, or have reason to believe you might be infected, make sure to get tested. Through simple bloodwork, doctors can catch hepatitis early, begin to treat the virus, and prevent more serious illnesses such cirrhosis and liver cancer.
No specific treatments exist for HAV and HBV. In most cases, the body clears itself of the virus on its own, and patients will feel fully recovered in six months. HCV is treated with antiviral medication, which can take 8-12 weeks to clear the virus from the body.
If you or a loved one is at risk for hepatitis or is experiencing hepatitis symptoms, Steward is here to help. To find a specialist in our network, please visit Steward DoctorFinder™ or call 800-488-5959.