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Hepatitis

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. There are several different kinds of infection that cause hepatitis including three viruses, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis A

What is it?
Hepatitis A is not primarily considered a sexually transmitted disease. It is spread by oral-fecal contamination (when something contaminated with feces gets into a person's mouth). It is commonly spread among young children through incomplete hand washing and by contaminated food products. It is often called a travel disease because it is spread to vacationers through the food and water in countries where the disease is common. It can also be easily passed by any unprotected sexual activities that involve the anus.

What are the symptoms?

  • appetite loss
  • dark urine
  • fever
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • abdominal pain
  • jaundice

Symptoms usually last for a number of weeks, but most people recover within two months. Hepatitis A does not develop into a chronic illness, the body is eventually able to rid itself of the virus.

People with hepatitis A don't usually have symptoms until about two weeks after infection. During this two-week period they can infect others.

How is it diagnosed?
Hepatitis A is diagnosed using blood tests that show abnormal liver enzymes and with a positive antibody test to Hepatitis A.

How is it treated?
There is no treatment for Hepatitis A, although rest and good nutrition can reduce the symptoms. Most people with Hepatitis A do eventually recover without treatment.

How can I protect myself from Hepatitis A?
You may wish to cut open a condom and use it to cover your partner's anus before oral contact with this area. If you and your partner are engaging in anal sex, use condoms, dispose of the condom immediately after each use and wash your hands after the disposal. There is a vaccine to prevent Hepatitis A and people who have anal sex should get the vaccine, it can be combined with the Hepatitis B vaccine. To ensure that the vaccine will provide protection, it should be given three weeks before exposure to the virus.

Hepatitis B

What is it?
Hepatitis B is transmitted through body fluids during sexual contact. Drug use or unsafe tattooing also put people at risk of Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is highly infectious; even using a condom during anal and vaginal sex cannot fully protect a woman and her partner(s) from this infection.

What are the symptoms?
Many people who get Hepatitis B have no symptoms and recover completely. Sometimes a person with hepatitis may feel like they have the flu and have jaundice.

A few people have acute Hepatitis B that causes extensive damage to their liver shortly after infection. It can cause serious liver damage and death.

Another small group of people may develop chronic Hepatitis B. Although they may not feel ill in the beginning, the disease can seriously damage the liver through cirrhosis of the liver and may eventually lead to death. People with chronic disease can infect others throughout their lives.

How is it diagnosed?
Hepatitis B is diagnosed through a blood test.

How is it treated?
In most cases, Hepatitis B gets better on its own, but when it doesn't there is no sure cure. Several experimental anti-viral drugs have been developed that may help treat the infection, but mostly doctors treat the symptoms.

How can I protect myself from Hepatitis B?
There is a vaccine to prevent Hepatitis B. In Ontario, students are now vaccinated in grade seven. People who do not use condoms or use i.v. drugs can receive the vaccine from their doctor, a sexual health clinic or a public health office. The vaccine is given in three doses over a six-month period. Side effects from the vaccine are very rare.

Hepatitis B is very infectious and can be easily transmitted by unprotected vaginal or anal sex. A condom can help protect you from this infection but it is not 100 percent effective. Hepatitis B is also transmitted in blood and other body fluids; unclean needles used for tattooing or to inject drugs can also transmit Hepatitis B.

Hepatitis C

What is it?
Hepatitis C is transmitted through body fluids, particularly blood. Sharing needles for drug use is the most common way to get this infection, but it may also be transmitted sexually. In the last ten years, a test has been developed and used to check donated blood for Hepatitis C. Prior to that time, people got this infection through blood transfusions. Unsafe tattooing can also put people at risk. Because Hepatitis C is primarily passed through exchanges of blood, it is rarely, transmitted through sexual contact, however it is theoretically possible.

What are the symptoms?
Many people who get Hepatitis C have no symptoms or at most experience a mild, short illness with:

  • jaundice
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • fever
  • right-side abdominal pain

Unfortunately while some people with Hepatitis C recover completely, up to 85 percent continue to carry Hepatitis C infection and may go on to develop chronic hepatitis (65-70 percent after ten years). About twenty percent develop cirrhosis (scarring and permanent damage to the liver) after twenty years.

How is it diagnosed?
Hepatitis C is diagnosed with a blood test taken 12 weeks or more after infection.

How is it treated?
If diagnosed in the first few months after infection, antiviral drug treatment decreases the chance of developing chronic Hepatitis C disease. If chronic hepatitis develops, antiviral treatment with a combination of oral ribavirin and interferon injections for a year improve chronic Hepatitis C disease in about 40 percent of those treated. However, in extreme cases, liver transplant may be the only option.

How can I protect myself from Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is mostly transmitted by blood contact. Sixty to eighty percent of the time people get Hepatitis C by sharing needles even once used to inject drugs. Follow these tips for safer needle use to help prevent infection.

Hepatitis C is rarely transmitted sexually unless there are open sores in the genital area - even long term partners do not seem to get Hepatitis C. To protect yourself and your partner, have genital infections treated promptly and avoid unprotected sex during your period. Be aware that sharing personal items that might carry blood, such as razors or toothbrushes, may also carry Hepatitis C.

 

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital