What You Need to Know About Viral Hepatitis A, B and C

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Designed by Elizabeth Gething

Reviewed by Joyce Knestrick, Ph.D., FNP-BC, FAANP

Hepatitis is inflammation (swelling) of the liver, which performs important jobs such as filtering your blood and fighting infections. Hepatitis can be caused by viruses as well as heavy alcohol use, certain toxins, some medications and certain medical conditions.

The three most common types of hepatitis in the United States are A, B and C. All 3 are caused by a virus.

Symptoms of hepatitis A, B and C are similar. They include:



Loss of appetite

Upset stomach/throwing up

Dark-colored pee

Light-colored poop

Stomach pain

Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)

Many people with viral hepatitis never have symptoms.

Hepatitis A:

Is highly contagious

Spreads when a person eats or drinks food contaminated by the virus, or has close contact with an infected person

Does not usually cause long-term liver problems

Usually goes away after a few weeks

Can cause liver failure or death in rare cases

Is preventable with a vaccine

Who should get the hepatitis A vaccine?

Kids ages 12-23 months (or up to age 18 if not previously vaccinated)

People at higher risk, including:

Those with liver problems or HIV

International travelers

IV drug users

Sex partners of people with hepatitis A

Men who have sex with men

Hepatitis B:

Spreads through sexual contact, direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person, sharing needles, or from mother to child at birth

Can be a short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic) infection, depending mostly on age — it’s much more likely to be chronic in babies than adults

Can lead to liver disease, liver failure and death when chronic

Can’t be cured, but can be managed with medication

Is preventable with a vaccine

Who should get the hepatitis B vaccine?

All infants

Unvaccinated kids under age 19

Adults ages 19 to 59

Adults over 60 who are at higher risk, including:

IV drug users

Healthcare workers

People who live with someone who has hepatitis B

People who are on dialysis

Sex partners of people with hepatitis B

Men who have sex with men

⚠️ An estimated 68% of people with chronic hepatitis B don’t know they’re infected.

Hepatitis C

Spreads through IV drug use and from mother to child at birth

Is common among people with HIV who also inject drugs

Often has no symptoms

Causes a chronic infection that can cause serious health problems, and even death

Curable with medications called direct-acting antivirals (DAAs)

Is detectable with a simple blood test

Is not preventable (no vaccine exists)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends hepatitis C screening for all adults and pregnant women during each pregnancy.

Who should get tested for hepatitis C?

Universal screening is recommended for all adults ages 18 to 79 and pregnant women during each preganncy

One-time testing is recommended for the following groups:

People with HIV

People with certain medical conditions, including those who have received hemodialysis

IV drug users (past or current)

People with liver problems

Healthcare personnel who may have been exposed

People who have gotten transfusions or organ transplants

Children born to mothers with hepatitis C

Routine testing is recommended for people with ongoing risk factors

Questions about viral hepatitis? Reach out to your healthcare provider or local public health clinic.

This resource was created with support from Merck.