Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. This condition is often caused by a virus. In the United States, the most common causes of viral hepatitis are hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV), although it can also be caused by hepatitis A virus (HAV). HBV and HCV share modes of transmission and can cause severe liver disease, liver cancer and death. They disproportionately affect different populations, and we have different tools to address each type of viral hepatitis.
Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are contagious liver diseases that range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, chronic, lifelong illness due to the virus attacking the liver. Both HBV and HCV infection begin as acute infections; in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver problems unless treated. Unlike hepatitis B and C, HAV does not cause a long-term, chronic liver infection. Although there is no cure for HAV, most people who get hepatitis A are only sick for a few weeks. In rare cases, HAV can cause liver failure and death.
There are vaccines to prevent HAV and HBV, but, there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Both HBV and HCV can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. There is no cure for HBV, but with proper care and antiviral treatment, if recommended, individuals can reduce the risk of serious liver damage. Medications can now cure most cases of HCV.