What Is the Difference Between Hepatitis A, B, and C, and How Are They Contracted?

I recently read an excellent article on this subject, and am happy to sum up the high points of this article from the "Awake" magazine, in its August 2010 issue here:

Hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, can be devastating to a person's health. When the liver is inflamed, it can be difficult for the liver to do its job of filtering poisons, and this and many other important functions of the liver may be compromised with hepatitis.

Five viruses are known to cause hepatitis, and the three most common are type A, B,and C. I will characterize each condition below:

Hepatitis A Virus (HAV):

HAV is present in the feces of an infected person. The virus can survive in salt or fresh water and in ice cubes. A person can come in contact with HAV by:

  • Eating uncooked seafood from water contaminated with human waste or ingesting contaminated water

  • Having close physical contact with an infected person or sharing food, drink, or eating utensils with him

  • Not washing hands thoroughly after using the toilet or changing an infected baby or before preparing food

HAV causes acute but usually not chronic illness. In almost all cases, if the immune system is healthy and strong, the body clears itself of the virus within weeks or months. There is no specific standard treatment besides rest and adequate nutrition. Keeping your immune system strong is important as well. Alcohol, as well as drugs that burden the liver, such as acetaminophen, should be avoided until a doctor determines that the liver is completely healed.

A person who has had HAV will probably not get it again but can get other types of hepatitis. Vaccination can prevent hepatitis A.

Hepatitis B Virus : (HBV)

Hepatitis B kills at least 600,000 people a year, comparable to the toll taken by malaria. More than 2 billion people - nearly a third of the world's population- have been infected with HBV, and most recovered within months. For about 350 million, however, the disease became chronic. For the rest of their lives, whether they have symptoms or not, they will have the potential to infect others.

HBV is present in the blood, semen, and vaginal fluids of infected people. The virus spreads when these fluids enter the body of someone who is not immune. The virus can be transmitted by:

  • Birth-from an infected mother to her baby

  • Medical, dental, tattooing, or body-piercing instruments that have not been properly sterilized

  • Shared hypodermic needles, razors, nail files or clippers, toothbrushes, or anything else that can transfer even a tiny amount of blood through any break in the skin

  • Sexual activity

Health authorities believe that HBV is not spread by insects, or by coughing, holding hands, hugging, kissing on the cheek, breast-feeding, or sharing food, drink, chopsticks, or other eating utensils. Most adults recover from acute HBV and will then be immune to it.

Small children are at high risk of developing chronic infection. Untreated, chronic hepatitis B can lead to liver failure and death. Vaccination can prevent hepatitis B.

Hepatitis C Virus : (HCV)

HCV is transmitted in much the same way as HBV but most commonly by the injection of drugs with contaminated needles. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

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