Houston Health Department
What is Viral Hepatitis?
The liver is one of the most important organs in the body. It is the largest internal organ that performs many vital functions. The liver is responsible for regulation, synthesis and secretion of bodily substances, storage of vitamins, minerals, iron and sugars, and purification, transformation, and clearance of waste products, drugs and toxins. The liver processes everything we eat, drink, breathe, and absorb through our skin. Drugs, toxins, alcohol, bacteria and viruses can all damage the liver.
Hepatitis is a general term that indicates an inflammation of the liver. “Hepa” means liver and “itis” means inflammation. The viruses that affect the liver are called viral hepatitis. Currently, there are at least five known viruses that cause hepatitis and liver damage: Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. These viruses were named in order of their discovery.
Although these viruses may cause similar symptoms, they are all very different. They differ in how they are transmitted and treated, as well as how severely they may impact the body.
Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). Hepatitis A can affect anyone. In the United States, hepatitis A can occur in situations ranging from isolated cases of disease to widespread epidemics. Good personal hygiene and proper sanitation can help prevent hepatitis A. There is a vaccine available for long-term prevention of hepatitis A virus infection in persons 12 months of age and older. Immune globulin is available for short-term prevention of hepatitis A virus infection in individuals of all ages.
Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. The virus, which is called hepatitis B virus (HBV), can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure and death. Hepatitis B virus can be found in the blood and other body fluids of an infected person. HBV is spread by direct contact with infected body fluids, usually by sexual contact or needle stick exposure. HBV can also be transmitted to infants born to mothers with hepatitis B. Hepatitis B vaccine is available for all age groups to prevent hepatitis B virus infection.
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is found in the blood of persons who have the disease. HCV is spread by contact with the blood of an infected person. A person may be at risk for hepatitis C and should contact a medical care provider for a blood test if they: were notified that they received blood from a donor who later tested positive for hepatitis C; have ever injected illegal drugs, even if experimented a few times many years ago; received a blood transfusion or solid organ transplant before 1992; were a recipient of clotting factor(s) made before 1987; have ever been on longterm kidney dialysis; and have evidence of liver disease (e.g., persistently abnormal ALT levels). There is currently no vaccine for the prevention of hepatitis C.
Hepatitis D is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV), a defective virus that needs the hepatitis B virus to exist. Hepatitis D virus (HDV) is found in the blood of people infected with the hepatitis B virus, and is transmitted the same routes as HBV.
Hepatitis E is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV) transmitted in a similar way to the hepatitis A virus, the fecal-oral route. However, hepatitis E does not occur often in the United States.
What can people do to reduce the risk of exposure to viral hepatitis?
Measures to reduce the risk of exposure to viral hepatitis, especially hepatitis A, B, and
- Get vaccinated with the hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines.
- Always wash your hands after using the bathroom, changing a diaper or preparing or eating food.
- Practice safer sex by using latex condoms correctly every time you have sex.
- Don’t share anything that might have blood on it.
- Don’t shoot drugs. If you cannot stop using drugs, don’t share drugs, needles, syringes, cookers, cotton, water or rinse cups.
- Don’t share personal care items, such as razors or toothbrushes.
- Learn about the health risks if you are planning to get a tattoo or body piercing.
- Handle needles and sharps safely and always follow standard precautions in the workplace.
Viral Hepatitis Training Courses
For upcoming viral hepatitis trainings provided by the Houston Health Department, view the Training Calendar at
City of Houston
Viral Hepatitis Resource Guide
State of Texas DSHS
Centers for Disease Control
8000 North Stadium Drive, Houston TX 77054
Email the Health Department
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