Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can be caused by a group of viruses. There are five major types of viral hepatitis: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatitis D, and hepatitis E. Hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C are the most common types of viral hepatitis found in the United States.
Hepatitis A: The hepatitis A virus can enter a person's body when he or she eats or drinks something contaminated with the stool or blood of someone who has the disease. Symptoms usually appear suddenly, but are not followed by the chronic (long-lasting) problems that hepatitis B and C viruses can cause.
Hepatitis B: The hepatitis B virus can infect a person if his or her mucous membranes or blood are exposed to an infected person's blood, saliva, semen, or vaginal secretions.
Hepatitis C: Hepatitis C is spread by contact with the blood of an infected person. Symptoms appear more gradually than in hepatitis A. Unlike hepatitis A, the hepatitis B and C viruses can stay in the body--sometimes for a lifetime--and eventually cause chronic, serious liver diseases.
When hepatitis viruses damage liver cells, scar tissue is formed and those cells can no longer function. With fewer healthy liver cells, the body begins to show symptoms ranging from mild (such as fatigue) to more severe symptoms (such as mental confusion).
Although many cases of hepatitis are not a serious threat to health, the disease can sometimes become chronic (long-lasting) and may lead to liver failure and death. In many cases, though, viral hepatitis is a self-resolving illness.
Sexual activity poses a different level of risk for each type of viral hepatitis, but is most closely associated with hepatitis B. Blood transfusion, IV needle sharing, and organ transplants may also pose a risk for transmission.
Hepatitis A and B are preventable through vaccination, though no vaccination currently exists for hepatitis C or E. Since hepatitis D only infects persons with active hepatitis B, the vaccine for hepatitis B prevents hepatitis D.
Learn more about the different types of viral hepatitis:
Men who have sex with men (MSM), compared the population as a whole, are at increased risk of getting hepatitis A and B. However, there are safe and effective vaccines available for both hepatitis A and B. Learn more about hepatitis risks and prevention, take a risk assessment and take a quiz to check your knowledge at ASHA's hepatitis website for men.