About Hepatitis

Hepatitis means “inflammation of the liver.” There are seven known types of hepatitis, but it is usually caused by one of three viruses: Hepatitis A, B or C. The effects of each virus are different. In some cases, viral Hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), which can lead to serious life-threatening diseases, including cancer of the liver. People can die from Hepatitis.

Hepatitis A (HAV) is caused by a virus found in feces (people’s stool). You can get it by coming in contact with infected feces. The most common way is by swallowing food or liquids that get contaminated by hands that are not washed thoroughly after using the toilet. You can also get Hepatitis A through sexual acts like ‘rimming’ (licking someone’s anus) or via oral sex on a male’s penis after he has had anal sex.

Almost everyone infected with Hepatitis A completely recovers in about 4 to 8 weeks. Although there are not always symptoms, you may suffer from nausea, vomiting, jaundice (yellow skin and/or eyes), diarrhea, and/or extreme lack of energy. Hepatitis A is rarely dangerous unless accompanied by Hepatitis C. You can pass Hepatitis A to another person even if there are no symptoms. After recovery of Hepatitis A you can not spread it to others and you will be immune from getting it again. The immune system develops antibodies that can fight off future exposure.

Hepatitis B (HBV) is caused by a virus that lives in body fluids that include blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk. You can get it by having unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone infected with Hepatitis B. There is also high risk in sharing needles (tattoos, ear-piercing, drug needles). Because it is transmitted so easily through body fluids, you can also get it by touching someone’s open sore or cut with your own open sore or cut, or by sharing items (toothbrushes, razors, etc). Hepatitis can also be passed from a pregnant mother to her child.

When infected with Hepatitis B, the sickness may start gradually, usually lasting a month or two. Some people have no symptoms, but they can include yellow skin or eyes, feeling tired, fever, loss of appetite, stomach pain, nausea, swollen glands, pain in the joints, dark urine, skin rash, weight loss, liver pain (upper right side of the belly just below the rib cage). Only about 1% of people with HBV die, and most people recover completely within about 6 months. However, about 5-10% of people remain capable of spreading the virus for the rest of their lives and can develop chronic liver disease.

Hepatitis C (HCV) is caused by a virus found in the blood. Although some information about how this is passed from person to person is not clear, it is very clear that it is transmitted through blood to blood contact, such as sharing needles (to inject drugs, or for tattoos, ear-piercing, etc.). In the past, some people got Hepatitis C from blood transfusions, but today the risk is small, since blood for transfusions is screened. In a few instances, a woman has passed the virus to her baby during pregnancy or birth, but this is not common.

Most people do not realize they are infected with Hepatitis C. Very few people develop the usual symptoms of jaundice, fever, and flu-like symptoms that can last up to 6 weeks, right after getting infected. Others discover they’re infected years later when they get sick and testing confirms the virus. A large percentage of people (75-80%) with Hepatitis C never clear the virus out of their body and continue to infect others.

Unfortunately, Hepatitis often goes undiagnosed because symptoms are mild or suggest only a flu-like illness. Many people have no symptoms at all. The only way to know for sure if you have Hepatitis is to have a blood test. Ask a doctor or needle exchange site where you can get tested, or call the Help-for-Hep hotline at 877‑435‑7443. You are usually safe to get tested within two weeks after potential exposure, to know for sure.

Symptoms can include fatigue, mild fever, muscle or joint aches, nausea/vomiting, loss of appetite, mild stomach pain, loss of taste for cigarettes, diarrhea, dark urine, light-colored stools, and jaundice (skin and/or the whites of the eyes look yellow).

There are vaccines that can keep you from getting Hepatitis A or Hepatitis B. There is currently no vaccine for Hepatitis C. The vaccine for Hepatitis A consists of two shots over 6 months. The Hepatitis B vaccine consists of 3 shots over 5-6 months. To get full protection (immunity) against Hepatitis A or B, you must get all of the shots in each series.

Almost everyone infected with Hepatitis A completely recovers in about 4 to 8 weeks. There is no medication for Hepatitis A. Rest and avoiding things that are toxic to your liver (like alcohol), help the healing process. In severe cases that require hospitalization, there are medicines that can lessen the symptoms.

There is no cure for Hepatitis B or C. However, there are treatments that can help improve the symptoms of Hepatitis B and C.

Many people use alternative or complimentary therapies such as acupuncture, herbs and vitamins to treat Hepatitis A, B, and C. Although some people report that these therapies work, their effectiveness has yet to be scientifically proven.

It is always a good idea to get screened for Hepatitis A or B antibodies before you get vaccinated to make sure you aren’t already infected. Any health provider should be able to screen you or provide you with the vaccines. Some clinics will only vaccinate you if you are a certain age, if you ask, or if you are a regular patient. If you do not have a regular health provider or are having trouble finding one who will vaccinate you, you can ask your local city or county health department where to go. You can also call the Help-for-Hep hotline at 877‑435‑7443.

To prevent getting Hepatitis A:

  • Get vaccinated
  • Be careful to only eat food prepared under clean conditions
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and before cooking or eating
  • Use protection when having sex (condoms, dental dams, latex gloves) especially when practicing anal sex, or combinations of anal-oral sex

To prevent getting Hepatitis B:

  • Get vaccinated
  • Use protection when having sex (condoms, dental dams, latex gloves)
  • Do not share needles of any kind with others
  • Use new, sterile syringes and equipment

To prevent getting Hepatitis C:

  • Avoid contact with other people’s blood.
  • Do not share needles of any kind with others
  • Don’t share toothbrushes, razors, or other personal articles that might contain blood.

About HIV

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). As HIV slowly ravages the body’s immune system, HIV disease progresses. AIDS is the final stage of HIV disease. AIDS is a technical word — defined by the federal government — and is diagnosed by having a T-cell (the most basic element of the immune system) count of less than 200 or the presence of certain opportunistic infections. HIV is the virus, AIDS is the disease, and “HIV disease” is the most appropriate way to describe the continuum of HIV and AIDS.

There is not a cure for HIV disease. A variety of drugs are used to slow down the damage that HIV does to the immune system. When they are effective, these drugs reduce the amount of HIV in a person’s body. However, the drugs do not totally rid the body of the virus. There is not a cure.

HIV anti-viral drugs slow down the replication of the virus and the destruction of the immune system. They work for approximately half of those who take them. Their long-term effectiveness is unknown, and they require a complicated pill-taking regimen, which often produces significant and occasionally life-threatening side effects. The drugs are also costly, about as much as buying a new car every year.

The virus must be present; meaning an individual must be infected with HIV in order to infect others. The virus needs access into the other person’s bloodstream. HIV is introduced into the bloodstream through open cuts or sores and through contact with mucus membranes. Transmission is most likely to happen when exposed to body fluids that have high concentrations of the virus.

Blood, mother’s milk, semen and vaginal fluid discharged during sexual activity can contain high concentrations of the virus. Oral contact with blood, semen, and vaginal fluids presents a risk of infection as well. The virus has not been found in sweat or tears.

Mosquitoes or other sucking and biting insects do not transmit HIV. For a mosquito to infect someone, it would have to bite a person who was infected. Then, it would have to either immediately travel to someone else and infect that person from tiny drops of infected blood left on the sucker, or it would have to process the virus in its saliva and inject it into the next person. Mosquitoes do not do either of these things.

They do not travel from person to person. They do not carry enough blood on their suckers to infect anyone else they bite. And, they do not process the virus in their saliva. Once inside a mosquito, the virus lives for only a short time. Thus, the saliva mosquitoes inject into people cannot have HIV. If HIV were spread via animals and insects, there would be a high infection rate in people of all ages.

HIV is a fragile and hard-to-get virus. You do not get HIV from: sneezing or coughing, touching, hugging, dry kissing, public restrooms, saunas or showers, pools, sharing towels, sharing eating utensils or drinks, or being friends with a person who has HIV.

Yes. Since 1985, all blood has been tested for HIV, hepatitis and other infectious agents. If you had a blood transfusion prior to 1985, you may want to consider being tested for HIV.

Until February of 1999, no one knew for sure where the HIV virus came from. There were several theories but nothing proven. In February, an international team of scientists reported that they had traced the roots of HIV-1 to a subspecies of chimpanzees in Africa. The researchers stated that chimpanzees are hunted and sold in the “bushmeat” trade, which during the slaughtering process may have placed people at risk for cross-species transmission through open cuts or sores.

HIV is a virus and is able to mutate. There are two identified strains of HIV. HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-2 is not as virulent as HIV-1 and is epidemic only in West Africa. HIV testing in the United States usually only screens for HIV-1. Blood banks and plasma centers screen for both.

Yes, there are documented cases of HIV infection from oral sex with both men and women. Body fluids exchanged through sexual activity can enter cuts in the mouth and get into the bloodstream. Also, certain cells in the mucus lining of the mouth may carry HIV into the lymph nodes or bloodstream. Reduce the risk of HIV during oral sex by using a latex or polyurethane barrier such as a condom or dental dam.

Research has shown that HIV transmission is 2-5 times more likely to occur when another sexually transmitted infection (STI) is present.