Hepatitis - Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Hepatitis, How Is It Contracted?

Hepatitis C Drawing
What Causes Hepatitis?. © Getty Images

Frequently asked questions about Hepatitus from the National Women's Health Information Center.

What Is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a liver disease. It makes your liver, an important organ in your body, swell up (or become inflamed) and stop working well. A healthy liver helps your body fight infections, stops bleeding, takes drugs and other poisons out of your blood, and stores energy.

What Causes Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is caused by a virus (a germ that causes sickness).

Other things can harm the liver, such as alcohol or drug abuse and long-term use of some medications. Hepatitis affects millions of Americans and is a serious health problem in parts of Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean.

What Are the Different Types of Hepatitis and How Do You Get Them?

There are 5 types of hepatitis - A, B, C, D, and E - each caused by a different hepatitis virus. Some you contract by eating contaminated food and water, others you get by being exposed to bodily fluids, and others you can contract only if you already have another type of hepatitis. Read more...

What Are the Signs of Hepatitis?

Some people with hepatitis have no signs of the disease. For other people, the most common and early signs of hepatitis are:

  • Mild fever.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Tiredness.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.

Later signs of hepatitis, when a person has been infected for some time, are:

  • Dark-colored urine and pale bowel movements.
  • Pain in the stomach.
  • Skin and whites of the eyes turning yellow (jaundice).

Is Hepatitis a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)?

Some types of hepatitis are definitely primarily transfered through sexual contact. Others types such as hepatitis C can be sexually transmitted, but rarely are. Other types are more often transmitted through injection of illegal drugs.


How Is Hepatitis Treated?

While there is no treatment for hepatitis A, most people who have it recover within a few weeks. Sometimes your doctor may order bed rest and give you medicine to treat symptoms, such as nausea and diarrhea. There is a vaccine to prevent hepatitis A.

Hepatitis B is treated with two drugs. One of these drugs, interferon, is given by injection. Most people get interferon for 4 months. Another drug, called lamivudine, is taken by mouth, usually for one year. Sometimes doctors treat people with hepatitis B with both of these drugs. In some people, hepatitis B can cause the liver to stop working over time.

When this happens, surgery to transplant (take out your liver and put in a donor liver from another person) the liver. There is a vaccine to prevent hepatitis B. A new drug to treat chronic hepatitis B, adefouir (Hespera) has recently been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Hepatitis C is most often treated with interferon and other special drugs.

An improved form of interferon (Pegasys) was recently given FDA approval to treat hepatitis C. Interferon is also used to treat hepatitis D. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The hepatitis B vaccine protects you from hepatitis D. There is no treatment or vaccine for hepatitis E.

Health care providers suggest bed rest, eating healthy foods, and not drinking alcohol or taking certain medications as the best ways to take care of yourself when you have hepatitis.

How Can I Lower My Chances of Getting Hepatitis?

The best way to keep from getting hepatitis A and B is to get a vaccine. The hepatitis A vaccine is given in two doses, 6 months apart. The hepatitis B vaccine is given through 3 injections over 6 months. Babies should get the hepatitis B vaccine in three injections as well - within 12 hours after birth, at age 1 to 2 months, and between ages 6 and 18 months.

To keep from getting hepatitis B, C, and D through sexual contact:

  • The best way to prevent hepatitis B, C, and D and any STD is to practice abstinence (don't have sex). Delaying having sex for the first time is another way to reduce your chances of getting an STD. Studies show that the younger people are when having sex for the first time, the more likely it is that they will get an STD. The risk of getting an STD also becomes greater over time, as the number of a person's sex partners increases.
  • Have a sexual relationship with one partner who doesn't have any STDs, where you are faithful to each other (meaning that you only have sex with each other and no one else).
  • Practice "safer sex." This means protecting yourself with a condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

To protect yourself from hepatitis A and E:

  • Avoid anal-oral contact when having sex
  • When traveling to another country, drink bottled water and don't use ice cubes or wash fruits and vegetables in tap water.


  • Wash your hands before eating and fixing food. Be sure to wash your hands after using the toilet.
  • If you are a health care worker or caregiver and have to touch other people's stool, wear gloves and wash you hands after doing so.

More Information

You can find out more about hepatitis by contacting the National Women's Health Information Center (800) 994-9662 or the following organizations:

Hepatitis Foundation International
Phone Number: (800) 891-0707
Internet Address: www.hepfi.org

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
National Prevention Information Network
Phone Number: (800) 458-5231
Internet Address: www.cdcnpin.org

CDC National STD and AIDS Hotline
Phone Number: (800) 227-8922
Internet Address: www.ashastd.org/NSTD/

National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention
Internet Address: www.cdc.gov/nchstp/od/nchstp.html

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Phone Number: (301) 496-5717
Internet Address: www.niaid.nih.gov

American Social Health Association
Phone Number: (800) 783-9877
Internet Address: www.ashastd.org

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Phone Number: (800) 762-2264
Internet Address: www.acog.org

American Academy of Family Physicians
Phone Number: (913) 906-6000
Internet Address: familydoctor.org

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Hepatitis Branch
Phone Number: (888) 443-7232
Internet Address: www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/hepatitis/

National Center for Infectious Diseases
Phone Number: (404) 371-5245
Internet Address: www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/hepatitis/

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