Hepatitis A and B

By Arielle Horowitz

From PHN Issue 37, Summer 2018

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a virus that can make it harder for your liver to work. You can get hepatitis A from food or water contaminated with fecal matter (poop), being near someone who has hepatitis A, or having sex with someone who has hepatitis A. It is not spread by sneezing or coughing. Washing your hands often, especially after using the toilet, may help you avoid getting hepatitis A. You can also prevent it by getting a hepatitis A vaccination. It is important to speak to your doctor to be sure that you are properly vaccinated, as everyone’s vaccination needs and effectiveness can be different.

If you do get hepatitis A, you may feel very tired, vomit, have belly pain (especially on the upper right side below your lower ribs) not feel hungry, have dark urine, feel itchy, or have joint pain or yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes.

The only way to know for sure if you have hepatitis A is to get a blood test. For a blood test, a small amount of blood is taken from your arm and sent to a laboratory to be tested for signs of the hepatitis A virus in your body. In most cases, your body will get rid of the virus on its own. If you find out you do have hepatitis A, you can control the symptoms by resting and not drinking alcohol. It is also very important to drink plenty of fluids such as water, fruit juice, and milk.

To prevent spreading hepatitis A to other people, avoid sexual activity (even with condoms) while you are sick and wash your hands carefully after using the toilet. If your job includes preparing food for others, and you are not allowed to stay out of the kitchen while you have hepatitis A, wear gloves, and make sure to wash your hands before putting them on.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a virus that can cause a serious liver infection. For some people, hepatitis B will last longer than 6 months and can increase their risk of liver failure, liver cancer, or permanent liver scarring. You can get hepatitis B from the blood, semen, or other body fluids of someone who has hepatitis B. It is often spread by sexual contact and sharing needles.

Hepatitis B is not spread by sneezing or coughing.

To avoid getting this virus, you can get a hepatitis B vaccine, avoid having sex where you could risk passing blood between you, use a new condom or plastic barrier every time you have sex, avoid sharing needles, and only use clean equipment for piercing and tattooing. It is important to speak to your doctor to be sure that you are properly vaccinated, as everyone’s vaccination needs and effectiveness can be different. The hepatitis B vaccination is a series of three shots over a period of time, so it is important to receive a complete vaccination.

If you do get hepatitis B, you may have belly pain, dark urine, a fever, joint pain, and yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes. You may also feel weak, tired and less hungry. Hepatitis B can also make you vomit.

To find out if you have hepatitis B, a doctor will look for signs of liver damage. The doctor may use a physical exam, a blood test, an imaging study such as a liver ultrasound, or a liver biopsy. For a liver biopsy, the doctor will poke a thin needle through your skin to remove a small piece of your liver to test in a laboratory. If you are exposed to the hepatitis B virus, you may get an injection to help protect you from getting sick. If you do get hepatitis B, it may go away on its own, and you may not need treatment. Instead, you can rest and drink lots of fluids. If hepatitis B does not go away by itself, you can be treated with antiviral medications, injections, or a liver transplant.

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