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 are caused by a viral infection, though it also can be caused by drug or alcohol use. Some forms are mild, and others can be serious. Serious forms may 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).

Hepatitis A virus

The hepatitis A virusĀ is transmitted from person to person by the fecal-oral route or by consuming contaminated food or water. Susceptible adults who are exposed may experience 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 the infection is to get vaccinated. The vaccine for hepatitis A is part of the standard immunizations given to newborns. It is also recommended for at-risk adults, including those traveling to certain areas of the world where the infection is common.

Hepatitis B virus

The hepatitis B virusĀ 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 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. It is also recommended for at-risk adults, including health care workers and people with other liver diseases, including hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C virus

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

Advanced capabilities

UAB Medicine offers highly personalized care for evaluating, treating, and preventing hepatitis infections. The UAB Primary Care, Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Travelers Health, and Infectious Disease clinics routinely provide vaccinations against hepatitis A and B, as well as treatment when necessary.

For patients with hepatitis C, physicians from these clinics can prescribe various antiviral medications depending on your specific case. In fact, UAB was involved in the clinical trials that led to government approval of the latest hepatitis C treatment, which cures the disease in most people. In cases where hepatitis has progressed to more serious liver disease, patients will 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 the UAB 1917 Clinic at Dewberry at 205-934-1917.

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