Hepatitis is an inflammatory disease of the liver, the organ that helps the body digest food, store energy, and remove toxins and waste. Most cases of hepatitis are caused by a viral infection, though it also can be caused by drug or alcohol use. Some forms of hepatitis are mild, and others can be serious, especially if they lead to conditions such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure, or liver cancer. Hepatitis may cause no symptoms, while in other cases it may cause loss of appetite, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, dark-colored urine and pale bowel movements, stomach pain, or jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and eyes).

The hepatitis A virus is transmitted from person to person by the fecal-oral route or by consuming contaminated food or water. Most susceptible adults exposed to the hepatitis A virus have symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting, and jaundice that last for a few weeks. People recovering from hepatitis A produce antibodies (immunity) that last for life and protect against reinfection. The best way to prevent hepatitis A is to get vaccinated. The vaccine for hepatitis A is part of the standard immunizations given to newborns and is recommended for at-risk adults, including those traveling to certain areas of the world where the infection is common.

The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through contact with blood, semen, or another bodily fluid from an infected person. Transmission can occur through sexual contact; sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment; or from mother to baby at birth. The hepatitis B infection can be a short-term illness, or it can become a long-term, chronic infection. Left untreated, chronic hepatitis B can lead to serious health issues, such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. Treatment with antiviral medications is effective in reducing the risk of complications. The best way to prevent the infection is to get vaccinated. The vaccine for hepatitis B is now part of the standard immunizations given to newborns and is recommended for at-risk adults, including health care workers and people with other liver diseases, including hepatitis C.

The hepatitis C virus is carried in the blood and often is transmitted by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness, but for many it becomes a long-term, chronic infection that can result in serious health problems, even death, if left untreated. Some people are not aware of their infection because hepatitis C often does not cause symptoms. The best way to prevent hepatitis C is to avoid behavior that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but today it can be cured in most people with medication.

UAB Medicine offers highly personalized care for evaluating, treating, and preventing hepatitis infections. As part of our standard of care, the UAB Primary Care, Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Travelers Health, and Infectious Disease clinics routinely provide vaccinations against hepatitis A and B to patients at high risk, as well as treatment when necessary. For patients with hepatitis C, our experienced physicians from these clinics can prescribe various antiviral medications depending on the specific type of virus you have, the degree of liver disease, other medications you need, and other health conditions you may have. In fact, UAB was involved in the clinical trials that led to FDA approval of the latest (and previous) hepatitis C treatment, which cures the disease in most people. In cases where hepatitis has progressed to more serious liver disease, patients also benefit from the expertise found in our nationally recognized programs for liver failure, liver cancer, and liver transplantation.

To make an appointment for a hepatitis evaluation, vaccination, or treatment, call 205-996-4744. For vaccinations prior to international travel, call 205-930-8310. For patients with both HIV and hepatitis infections, please call our 1917 Clinic at 205-934-1917.

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