What is hepatitis?

To put it simply, it’s an inflammation of the liver. Since the liver processes nutrients, filters blood, and combats infections, hepatitis can cause a whole host of problems for the human body. Heavy alcohol consumption, certain medications, exposure to toxins, and specific medical conditions are known to cause hepatitis. However, the primary cause of hepatitis is viral infection. 

In the United States, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are the most prevalent types of viral hepatitis. Despite sharing similar symptoms, such as fatigue, jaundice, and abdominal pain, each type of viral hepatitis varies in transmission methods, treatment options, and potential complications.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is primarily spread through two main routes: 

  • person-to-person contact 
    • Particularly among men who have sex with other men, transmission can occur through direct anal-oral contact or contact with objects that have been in or around the anus of an infected person. 
  • consuming contaminated food or drink
    • However, this is more prevalent in regions where Hepatitis A is endemic.

To help stop the outbreaks, the CDC recommends the hepatitis A vaccine for people who use drugs (including drugs that are not injected), people experiencing homelessness, men who have sex with men, people with liver disease, and people who are or were recently in jail or prison.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is spread through semen or blood, either by:

  • Sharing needles, syringes, and other drug-injecting equipment.
  • Having sex with an infected person.

The CDC advises all adults to undergo hepatitis B testing at least once in their lifetime, with pregnant women recommended to be tested during each pregnancy. While there's no cure for hepatitis B, available treatments can help delay or lower the risk of liver cancer development.

Prevention of hepatitis B is possible through a safe and effective vaccine. Newborns should receive the first dose shortly after birth. Additionally, the CDC recommends vaccination for all adults aged 18 through 59, as well as older adults aged 60 or above with risk factors, if they were not vaccinated during childhood. If you're aged 60 or older without risk factors, vaccination should still be considered. 

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C primarily spreads through contact with the blood of an infected individual, most commonly through sharing needles, syringes, or other injection drug equipment. 

  • It can also be transmitted through tattoos or body piercings in informal settings or with non-sterile instruments. 
  • While less common, sexual contact can also facilitate the spread of Hepatitis C. Engaging in sexual activities may cause abrasions or increase exposure to blood.
    • having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or HIV, as well as having multiple sexual partners, are factors that can elevate the risk of acquiring Hepatitis C.

Since hepatitis C frequently presents no symptoms, testing is crucial to determine infection status. The CDC suggests that all adults undergo testing at least once in their lifetime, with pregnant women recommended to test during each pregnancy. Moreover, individuals with ongoing risk factors and specific medical conditions should also consider testing. 

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C prevention. However, the majority of individuals with hepatitis C can achieve a cure in just 8 to 12 weeks. Testing serves as the initial step toward diagnosis and treatment.

How Serious is Hepatitis?

Detecting viral hepatitis typically requires testing since many infected individuals show no symptoms.

In terms of severity, hepatitis A usually lasts up to six months with most adults recovering fully. However, rare cases can lead to liver failure and death. Both hepatitis B and hepatitis C can progress to chronic infections, with some individuals developing severe liver conditions.

Symptoms vary, with many experiencing none, especially in the acute phase. They can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, pale stools, joint pain, and jaundice. Symptoms of chronic hepatitis may indicate advanced liver disease.

To learn more about viral hepatitis visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

How do I get tested and treated?

At Central Outreach Wellness Center, our experienced staff specializes in treating marginalized communities, including people of color, immigrants, and LGBTQIA+ individuals. We prioritize creating a safe, judgment-free environment for all patients. Please visit one of our 6 clinics across Western PA and Ohio to get the testing and information you need.

With our at-home testing and telemedicine options, you can access hep C treatment from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Here's how it works:

  1. Fill out our simple patient form or give us a call to get started.
  2. Schedule a lab visit or have a phlebotomist come to you for a blood sample.
  3. Meet with a hep C specialist via telemedicine to discuss your results and treatment options. Medication can be delivered to your doorstep.

At HepCMyWay, we're committed to simplifying hepatitis C treatment for everyone.