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Diseases & Topics

Viral Hepatitis

"Hepatitis" is the term used to describe inflammation of the liver, one of the most important organs in the body. Many illnesses and conditions can cause inflammation of the liver, including a variety of microbes, certain drugs, alcohol, chemicals and autoimmune diseases. Viral hepatitis is caused by a group of specific viruses that attack the liver.

Viral hepatitis infection that lasts less than six months is known as acute hepatitis. Infection that lasts longer than six months is known as chronic hepatitis.

Chronic viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation. Chronic viral hepatitis infections are three to five times more frequent than HIV infections in the United States. An estimated 4.4 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis; one to two percent of the population is living with chronic Hepatitis B or C infection. Because many of those people may not have symptoms, most do not know they are infected with a damaging virus.

In North Carolina, the most common types of viral hepatitis are:

  • Hepatitis A (HAV) - A vaccine-preventable, acute liver infection that can be spread through person-to-person contact or contaminated food or drink.
  • Hepatitis B (HBV) - A vaccine-preventable, mild-to-severe liver infection which can be acute or chronic and is usually spread through infected body fluids, such as blood or semen.
  • Hepatitis C (HCV) - A liver infection usually spread through exposure to infected blood, the short-term (acute) manifestation of which often leads to a severe chronic infection. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C.

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