What is Hepatitis?

The most well-known causes of hepatitis are from five viruses, A-E

Hepatitis C virus, artwork
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What is hepatitis? The simplest definition of hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. The inflammation happens when liver cells die and the body's immune system sends in special cells that actually cause inflammation while trying to help the body repair the liver. Such inflammation may clear up on its own, or continue on as chronic, long-term inflammation.

There are many causes of hepatitis. However, the most well-known causes of hepatitis are from five viruses, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatitis D and hepatitis E.

The most common types are A, B and C.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is caused by the Hepatitis A virus (HAV). Hepatitis A is highly contagious. The virus is usually transmitted when a person eats or drinks food and water contaminated with feces from an infected person. Hepatitis A does not usually end up as chronic, long-term liver disease. Antibodies produced in response to Hepatitis A keep a person from ever becoming reinfected. A vaccination can prevent Hepatitis A.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). A person gets hepatitis B when blood, semen, or another body fluid from a person infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters his or her body. This can happen during sexual activity or when people share needles or syringes during drug use. Hepatitis B can also be passed from mother to baby at birth. For some, hepatitis B is a short-term problem but for others, it develops into a long-term infection.

Chronic Hepatitis B can bring on serious health problems including cirrhosis or liver cancer. A vaccine can prevent Hepatitis B.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus. Most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles during drug use.

Hepatitis C can be a short-term infection but most people it becomes a long-term infection. Chronic Hepatitis C is a serious disease than can result in long-term health problems, even death. The majority of people with the virus do not even know it because they have no symptoms. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D, also known as "delta hepatitis," is caused by the Hepatitis D virus (HDV). Hepatitis D is uncommon in the United States. You can only contract hepatitis D if you are already infected with hepatitis B. HDV can be a short- or long-term infection. Hepatitis D is easily transmitted by infected blood or other bodily fluids. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis D, but it can be prevented by the Hepatitis B vaccination.

Hepatitis E

Hepatitis E is caused by the Hepatitis E virus (HEV). Hepatitis E does not usually become a long-term infection. While rare in the United States, Hepatitis E is common elsewhere. It is transmitted from ingestion of fecal matter -- usually through contaminated water. There is currently no vaccine for Hepatitis E.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta (GA). "Viral hepatitis. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/