Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program

Hepatitis

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis. Hepatitis is also the name of a family of viral infections that affect the liver; the most common types in the United States are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.

These unrelated viruses are spread from one person to another through different routes. Safe and effective vaccines have been available for hepatitis B since 1981 and for hepatitis A since1995.  No vaccine exists yet against hepatitis C.  All three of these viruses can produce an illness characterized by nausea, abdominal pain, and jaundice.  HBV and HCV also can produce a chronic infection that is associated with an increased risk for chronic liver disease and liver cancer. 

  • Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis A virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months.
  • Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV).  It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death.
  • Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness.