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What is hepatitis?
It's an inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. There are five known hepatitis viruses: A, B, C, D and E; in the United States, A, B and C are the most common.

Heptaitis A is spread through contaminated feces and anal-oral contact during sex; hepatitis B and C are spead by contact with infected blood or body fluids.

The illness can be either acute or chronic. Hepatitis A causes only acute infections; hepatitis B and C can cause chronic infection. Some people with chronic hepatitis have no signs of illness for years, or just feel mildy ill orr tired. Others may suffer severe liver problems, including cirrhoisis and liver cancer.

How do I know if I have hepatitis?
The incubation period for hepatitis A is 15 - 45 days; for hepatitis B and C, it's 50 - 180 days. Symptoms of all three strains are similar and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, lack of appetite, dark urine, light stools and/or abdominal tenderness. You can have hepatitis and not know it. Diagnosis of hepatitis A, B and C includes a physical exam and blood tests.

How is hepatitis treated?
Treatment includes rest, proper hygiene, good nutrition and separate living arrangements. A gamma globulin shot can be given within a week of hepatitis A exposure to reduce the severity of illness. Avoid drugs, unless they're prescribed by a health care provider who's aware of your hepatitis. Because hepatitis is associated with liver damage, don't drink alcohol.

Vaccines for hepatitis A and B are available; talk with your provider to determine whether these are appropriate for you. There is no vaccination available for hepatitis C.

For more information
Talk with your healthcare provider about hepatitis testing and treatment. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Hepatitis Hotline has more information and referrals; call 1-800-443-4372.