What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by any one of several viruses. It strikes at least one million people in the United States each year. Because Hepatitis B (HBV) is particularly common among college students and because it is preventable through a vaccine, it warrants special consideration.


  • Hepatitis A
    • The most common form of Hepatitis
    • Transmitted primarily through contaminated food or water sources and person to person (fecal-oral) contact
    • The type of hepatitis that people are concerned about when traveling to developing countries
    • It seldom causes a serious illness.

  • Hepatitis B (HBV)

    • Transmitted sexually, through blood or body fluids, by sharing contaminated needles, and during birth

  • Hepatitis C

    • Primarily spread through blood and possibly other body fluids, by sharing needles, or sexually (although rare)

  • Hepatitis D

    • Transmitted by blood and blood products
    • The risk factors for infection are similar to those for Hepatitis B.
    • This type most often infects intravenous drug users.
    • In humans, Hepatitis D only occurs in the presence of Hepatitis B infection.

  • Hepatitis E

    • Transmitted by the fecal-oral route
    • The potential exists for food borne transmission.


  • Hepatitis B (HBV) can strike silently and damage the liver.
  • For some, the virus may be gone in six months. However, others become carriers for the rest of their lives and risk transmitting it to those they care about.
  • For carriers, cirrhosis of the liver may develop, causing a 200 times greater likelihood of developing liver cancer.
  • Hepatitis B is considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
  • Although sexual contact is not its exclusive method of transmission, the chances of getting HBV from unsafe sex are greater than getting HIV, because HBV is 100 times more infectious than HIV.


  • Hepatitis B (HBV) has no cure, but there is a vaccine to prevent the infection.
  • The Hepatitis B vaccine provides safe, effective, lifelong protection.
  • The vaccine is given in the arm, in three doses.
  • All three shots are required for adequate protection against Hepatitis B.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all adolescents and young adults get the Hepatitis B vaccine.


  • Unprotected sex
    • HBV is found in infected semen, vaginal secretions and saliva, so transmission can occur through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
    • Having sex without a condom or latex barrier makes infection more likely.
    • The more sex partners, the higher the risk of contracting HBV.

  • Sharing needles

    • An estimated 60 to 80% of those who share drug needles are, or have been, infected with Hepatitis B.

  • Close, frequent contact

    • Health care providers can get HBV from contact with the semen, vaginal secretions, blood, or saliva of an infected person.
    • Transmission can occur by sharing tweezers or razors with an infected person in your household.
    • Being exposed to an infected person’s blood, through cuts, open sores or mucus membranes (mouth or vagina) also transmits the virus.
    • HBV can be spread, although rarely, through blood transfusions. Generally the blood supply is safe because of strict screening tests that it must undergo.

  • Kissing

    • It is also possible to get Hepatitis B from kissing because the virus can be found in saliva.


  • Many people with Hepatitis B don’t have symptoms.
  • Symptoms, if they occur, appear from one to six months after exposure to the virus.
  • These symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, headache, joint pain, muscle aches, and abdominal pain.
  • After a few weeks, some infected people have jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes.
  • Darkened urine is also possible.
  • Come to the Health Center if you have any of these symptoms for an appropriate diagnosis.


  • There is no cure for Hepatitis B (HBV).
  • During its active stage, a clinician will probably recommend rest along with a high protein and carbohydrate diet.
  • In order to control nausea, several small meals instead of three large ones a day will be recommended.
  • Infected people should avoid alcohol consumption and acetaminophen because these can exacerbate the chances of liver damage.
  • Following recovery, a simple blood test can determine whether or not Hepatitis B is still present.


  • Get vaccinated.
    • This is especially important for high risk individuals.
    • The vaccine consists of three shots over a six-month period and has a more than 90% rate of effectiveness.

  • Practice safer sex.

    • During vaginal, anal, or oral sex, a latex condom should always be used.
    • Only having one monogamous sex partner, who is uninfected, also reduces the risk.

  • Don’t use drugs.

    • If you use drugs, seek help.
    • Never share needles.

  • Practice good hygiene.

    • This is especially important if living with an infected person.
    • Never share razors, tweezers, toothbrushes, pierced earrings or any other objects which might transfer bodily fluids.


  • Pregnancy is a special concern because Hepatitis B can be passed to an unborn child in utero.
  • If you are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant, talk to your clinician about being tested.
  • Babies should be vaccinated immediately after birth.

Adapted from: www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HBV/HBVfaq.htm#-

Sexual Health Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) Contraception