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What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a disease that irritates the liver and causes it to swell. The disease can be mild or very severe. About half the people with hepatitis have no symptoms and may not know they have it.

Many different viruses cause hepatitis. Hepatitis viruses A, B, and C are common causes:

Hepatitis A

The virus that causes Hepatitis A, or infectious hepatitis, leaves the body in bowel movements. Someone can get the virus if they handle body wastes. Hepatitis A is most commonly seen among children in day-care centers, school-age children and young adults. Childcare facilities are particularly at risk because symptoms in children are milder than those in adults.

A pregnant woman with hepatitis can transmit the virus to her unborn baby through the placenta. The baby often does not show signs of hepatitis at birth or during infancy. Hepatitis A is most able to spread to another person during the first one to three weeks. This is before the person has symptoms.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B, or serum hepatitis, is passed from one person to another in blood or other body fluids. Persons of any age can be affected. A baby can get hepatitis B at birth, or before birth, from its mother. The virus can also be transmitted through semen. Sexual intercourse with a man or woman having Hepatitis B may give the partner the disease.

A hepatitis B infection may become chronic (long lasting), leading to cirrhosis (sir-oh-sis) which is a severe stage of liver disease. It may even lead to liver cancer. Children may become long-term hepatitis B carriers. This means that they won’t have symptoms but may transmit it and infect other people for their entire lives.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is passed from one person to another in blood or other body fluids. People at high risk of getting hepatitis C include persons who have had blood transfusions, drug users who use needles, dialysis patients, or anyone having sexual contact with those persons.

The period when hepatitis develops may last from one to five months. About half of people with hepatitis C develop chronic liver disease.

Children usually have much milder cases of hepatitis than adults and usually do not suffer any long-lasting effects. The disease is generally mild. Teenagers with hepatitis may be worried that friends will think their disease is from drug abuse. You should reassure them and educate their friends about the real source of the infection.


At first, someone with hepatitis may exhibit these symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Overall “bad feeling”
  • Dark urine
  • Yellow eyes
  • Yellow-looking skin
  • Stool light in color

These symptoms gradually disappear in one to five weeks. However, a person with hepatitis may continue to tire easily for several more weeks or possibly months. Some people do not develop any symptoms.

When to See a Doctor

Call your healthcare provider if your symptoms get worse or if you experience bad reactions to medicine. See a healthcare provider immediately if you feel confused or are having hallucinations or are vomiting blood or bleeding from rectum.


Hepatitis A infections are caused by the spread of the hepatitis A virus, a germ found in the stool (poop) of a person who has the infection. If someone with hepatitis A doesn’t wash their hands well after using the bathroom, the virus stays on their hands and spreads to things they touch. Putting something in your mouth that the infected person touched—such as food they prepared—can make you sick.

Rarely, hepatitis A infections are caused by eating raw or undercooked food when polluted water makes those foods unsafe to eat. Hepatitis A can also sometimes spread to others through sexual contact.

Hepatitis B, or serum hepatitis, is passed from one person to another in blood or other body fluids. Persons of any age can be affected. A baby can get hepatitis B at birth, or before birth, from its mother. The virus can also be transmitted through semen. Sexual intercourse with a man or woman having Hepatitis B may give the partner the disease.

Hepatitis C infections are caused by the spread of a germ called the hepatitis C virus. The virus spreads when blood or body fluids from someone with the infection get into your blood. These are the ways it can happen most often:

  • Sharing needles to inject drugs
  • Getting tattoos or piercings with a dirty needle
  • Receiving blood, blood products (such as plasma, red blood cells, or platelets), or organs from a donor with hepatitis C
  • Accidental needle sticks
  • By being born to a mother with hepatitis C

Diagnosis and Tests

Hepatitis can be diagnosed using one or more blood tests. Your healthcare provider will take a blood sample and be able to tell you in about two to three days if you have the infection.


If you think you or your child has hepatitis, talk to your doctor. The doctor will perform a blood test. The test tells if your child has the disease and if treatment is needed. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis. Usually, doctors recommend rest, a good diet, vitamins, and medicine that controls vomiting. If you cannot keep liquids down, you may need to be admitted to the hospital.


If you are sick to your stomach, stick to clear liquids such as Jell-O®, water, apple juice, 7-Up®. When you have no more stomach aches, try small meals five to six times a day. In this way, you will eat more and will not get as tired. You will need calories to keep up strength and help your liver heal. Foods should be low in fat. Use skim or 2% milk, very little butter, trim away all fats from meats, and broil meat. Don’t fry meats.

An adult with hepatitis should not drink alcoholic beverages for six months to a year after the illness. Alcohol is extremely hard on the liver.


At first you will not feel like doing much. Gradually, your strength will return. The liver must rest so it can return to normal. Once the jaundice (yellow skin) has faded, you may become active too soon. This causes stress on the liver, and the jaundice may return.

After the jaundice is gone, make an appointment with your doctor. The doctor will check your blood to see if the liver is returning to normal.

Skin Care

Jaundice may cause itching. This can be helped with Calamine® or any soothing lotion. Too much dryness can also cause itching.


Everyone in your family must thoroughly wash clothes and bed linen with soap. Everyone needs to wash his hands before eating or preparing food. Anyone touching your child’s clothes or bed linen must wash his hands immediately afterwards. Do not share towels among family members.


The best and easiest way to prevent the disease is to practice good personal hygiene and cleanliness. Everyone, whether infected or not, should wash their hands before and after going to the toilet, preparing food, and before eating. Careful hand washing after diaper changes is very important.

If your child has been playing with another child who gets hepatitis, talk to your child’s doctor. Children often place things in their mouths and do not wash their hands as often as they should. Find out how much contact your child had with the infected playmate. Exposure means repeated, close contact, such as between household members. Contacts at school, work, and visits to the home of an infected person are generally not enough to get hepatitis.

If your child has been exposed to hepatitis, he may be given a gamma globulin shot, so he doesn’t get sick. It prevents hepatitis if he hasn’t received a hepatitis vaccine. If he is already sick with hepatitis, it doesn’t work. Gamma globulin works best if it is given as soon as possible after exposure to hepatitis. If a child has hepatitis, all their household contacts and intimate playmates need gamma globulin, too. The gamma globulin is effective for only 2 to 6 weeks, so gamma globulin may be needed after every contact with hepatitis.

Hepatitis A

All babies should receive two doses of the hepatitis A (HAV) vaccines starting at one year old. These doses are given six months apart. These will prevent hepatitis A infection.

Hepatitis B

All babies should receive the hepatitis B virus (HBV) vaccines. This will prevent the hepatitis B infection and keep your child from becoming a long-term carrier of the virus. Vaccination starting at birth or soon after birth will protect your child against HBV through adulthood.

If the mother does not have Hepatitis B, babies receive the first dose at birth or by two months of age. They receive the second dose 1 to 3 months later and the third dose between 6 and 18 months of age. If the mother is infected with HBV, talk to your doctor about the schedule.