Am I at Risk for Hepatitis?

Posted at 10:26 PM on Jul 10, 2022


Hepatitis simply means inflammation of the liver. While a virus usually causes hepatitis, the immune system can also overreact and attack the liver, known as autoimmune hepatitis.

There are five main types of hepatitis. Let’s look at each one in detail.

Hepatitis A

  • Caused by ingesting contaminated food or water
  • Easily transmitted.
  • Least likely to cause liver damage and is commonly spread in children.
  • Usually clears up within weeks to 6 months.
  • An effective vaccine is available.
  • The vaccine is typically given to children between 1 and 2 years of age.
  • Adults may also request the vaccine.
  • Vaccination is recommended for anyone traveling to an area where they may be exposed to contaminated water. Travelers should take precautions to drink clean water.

Hepatitis B

  • Spread by bodily fluids, including blood, semen, and vaginal fluid.
  • Most frequently, it is transmitted via exposure to infected equipment (like needles), sexual contact, and from an infected mother birthing a baby.
  • Ranges from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, life-long (chronic) condition
  • It can be severe and is the leading cause of liver cancer.
  • An effective vaccine is available.
  • Babies are now vaccinated routinely during their first year of life.
  • Adults are often vaccinated, especially if working in higher-risk occupations (such as the medical field) or if they have lifestyle factors that increase risk. 

Hepatitis C

  • Spread by contact with blood, even microscopic amounts.
  • Transmitted through sexual contact, contaminated equipment (like needles), and from an infected mother birthing a baby.
  • It can be mild to severe and even chronic. It is very common to develop chronic infection.
  • Ranges from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, life-long (chronic) infection.
  • There is no vaccine, but if treatment is sought early, the virus can be cleared up within 8-12 weeks.
  • A routine one-time screening blood test is now recommended for all adults. 
  • Periodic screening may be advised with higher-risk lifestyles.

Hepatitis D

  • Only found in people currently infected with hepatitis B.
  • The most severe form of hepatitis.
  • Not common in the United States.
  • It can cause serious symptoms that can lead to lifelong liver damage and even death.
  • No vaccine. However, the hepatitis B vaccine protects you from getting this type.

Hepatitis E

  • Spreads via contact with fecal matter.
  • Rare in the United States.
  • It goes away on its own in 4-6 weeks.
  • No current vaccine.
Am I at Risk for Hepatitis?

After understanding the different types of hepatitis, it’s time to determine if you are at increased risk of contracting this virus. Below is a checklist that may indicate you are at a higher risk than others:

  • Intravenous drug use 
  • Having regular unprotected sex with non-monogamous partners
  • Exposure to used needles or dirty health care equipment in a workplace setting
  • Poor sanitation and hygiene
  • Drinking or eating unclean food or beverages
  • International travel where you may be exposed to unsanitary conditions

If you fall into any of the categories listed above, you are at a higher risk of developing a form of hepatitis. You should talk to your doctor about receiving hepatitis vaccines if you are not already vaccinated. Your doctor can also make recommendations on decreasing your risk by adjusting lifestyle behaviors.