Viral hepatitis refers to a group of liver diseases caused by consuming contaminated water or food, using dirty needles or syringes, or practicing unsafe sex. Three of the six identified Hepatitis viruses – known as A, B and C – cause about 90 per cent of acute hepatitis cases in Canada.People infected with hepatitis can experience effects ranging from mild illness to serious liver damage. Many people recover from an infection, while others become carriers of the disease and can spread it to others unknowingly.
It is especially important for women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant to get tested for hepatitis. It is also important to know the symptoms of illness related to acute hepatitis, and how to minimize your risk. Below are some answers to frequently asked questions and additional hepatitis links. BACK TO TOP
Typical symptoms of acute hepatitis are fever, appetite loss, nausea, abdominal pain, and jaundice (yellowish colour on the skin and eyeballs).
Hepatitis A can be prevented by a variety of vaccines adapted to individual needs. Careful handwashing is one of the best preventive measures against hepatitis A. Contact your family physician, a local travel clinic, or the Canadian Immunization Guide to find out more about these vaccines. Antibiotics are ineffective against Hep A.
Hepatitis B can be prevented by adopting safe sex practices; giving hepatitis immune globulin to people who have had recent contact with infected body fluids (seven days or less); and immunization with a hepatitis B vaccine.
Hepatitis C can be prevented by avoiding sharing needles or any other drug equipment; wearing latex gloves if you are likely to be in contact with someone else`s blood; and practicing safe sex. If you are getting a tattoo, body piercing or acupuncture, choose a reputable licensed person and ensure all equipment is sterile. Do not allow anyone to use homemade or reused equipment, including needles, ink or jewelry.
Q. How is the hepatitis A virus transmitted?
- A. The hepatitis A virus (HAV) is transmitted when we eat or drink something that is contaminated. Raw or undercooked food, food handled by people who have not washed their hands; or water contaminated by animal or human waste are often sources of the virus.
Q. How is the hepatitis B virus transmitted?
- A. The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is the most prevalent hepatitis strain in the world. People with acute HBV or who are carriers can spread the virus by sexual contact or through blood or other body fluids.
Q. What are the long-term affects of the hepatitis B virus?
- A. Many people infected with the hepatitis B virus recover completely and develop lifelong immunity to the virus. About 90 per cent of babies born to mothers who are hepatitis B carriers have a high chance of developing chronic HBV in later life, which can lead to diseases such as cirrhosis and cancer of the liver.
Q. How is the hepatitis C virus transmitted?
- A. Injection drug use is associated with at least half of HCV infections but you can also get HCV through tattooing and body piercing. In Canada, it is estimated that between 210,000 and 275,000 people are currently infected with hepatitis C, of whom only 30 per cent know they have the virus. At present there is no vaccine against HCV.
Q. What are the health effects of hepatitis C?
- A. HCV affects the liver, an essential organ that acts as a filter for chemicals and toxins that enter the body. The liver also helps digest food, stores vitamins and minerals and aids in manufacturing blood. The illness begins with flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, fever, body aches and pains, and perhaps nausea or vomiting. Urine might become dark brown and in severe infections, the skin and eyes may turn yellow (become jaundiced). The course of the disease in the chronic phase is slow and may last a lifetime. Up to 20 per cent of those infected develop cirrhosis, which severely damages the liver. A smaller percentage develop liver cancer.
Q. What is the treatment for HCV?
- A. Currently, there is no vaccine or cure for HCV. Treatment usually involves a combination of the drugs interferon and ribavirin. If you think you may be at risk for hepatitis C, see your doctor. The disease can be detected by a simple blood test, and there are steps and medications you can take to minimize the effects of the disease.