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What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. It can be caused by different strains of viruses, including hepatitis A, B and C. Although the symptoms are similar from one type to another, their mode of transmission varies.

Why get tested?

This infection is difficult to diagnose because some infected people have no symptoms and therefore do not seek medical attention.

An infected person can transmit hepatitis A, B or C even if they have no symptoms.

When should you consult?

See a health care provider if you have symptoms or have engaged in risky practices, such as:

  • unprotected sex

  • sharing drug preparation, injection or inhalation equipment

  • tattooing and piercing with non-sterile equipment.

Signs and symptoms

People infected with hepatitis A, B or C viruses do not always have symptoms.

When people do have symptoms, they appear within a different time frame depending on the type of hepatitis:

  • Hepatitis A: 15 to 50 days (average 28 days) after infection with the virus;

  • Hepatitis B: 1 to 6 months (average of 2 to 3 months) after infection with the virus;

  • Hepatitis C: 2 weeks to 6 months (average 6 to 9 weeks) after infection with the virus.

  • Hepatitis A

    • Fever and fatigue

    • Headaches¬†

    • Stomach ache¬†

    • Nausea and vomiting¬†

    • Jaundice

    • Dark urine and pale stools

    Symptoms usually appear 1 month after transmission of the disease and continue for about 2 months. 

    In the majority of cases, a complete recovery is observed with time, and immunity develops. In other words, the person develops antibodies against the disease and is protected for the rest of his or her life.

  • Hepatitis B

    Most people infected with hepatitis B have no symptoms. However, when symptoms do occur, they are similar to those caused by hepatitis A. 

    Symptoms usually appear between 1 and 6 months after transmission of the virus. 

    Although the majority of people with hepatitis A will recover completely from the disease, some people will retain the virus for life when the body fails to produce antibodies. These people are called "chronic carriers" and can transmit the disease even if they have no symptoms.

  • Hepatitis C

    Most people infected with hepatitis C have no symptoms. However, when symptoms do occur, they are similar to those caused by hepatitis A. Symptoms usually appear between 2 and 6 months after transmission of the virus. 

    For the majority of people with hepatitis C, there is no cure and the person with hepatitis C can transmit the disease at any time, even if they have no symptoms.

Transmission

Hepatitis A: 

Primarily transmitted orally or fecally, either by direct or indirect contact between the mouth and the anus/feces: 

  • Lack of handwashing after a bowel movement¬†

  • Consumption of contaminated water or food¬†

  • Contact with contaminated objects¬†

  • Oral-anal sex (contact between the mouth and the anus)

Hepatitis B and C: 

Primarily transmitted through blood and body fluids, as well as through unprotected sex: 

  • Use of soiled tattoo/piercing material¬†

  • Contact with objects soiled with the blood of an infected person¬†

  • Sharing drug preparation, injection or inhalation equipment¬†

  • Transmission from mother to baby at birth¬†

  • Unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex¬†

  • Contact between genitals¬†

  • Sharing sex toys

Window or incubation period (time interval before the disease is detectable) 

  • Hepatitis A and B: between 1 and 12 weeks¬†

  • Hepatitis C: between 6 and 12 weeks

Prevention

The means of protection against this disease depend on its strain (A-B-C): 

Hepatitis A: The primary protection against hepatitis A is vaccination. It is effective for up to 1 year after the first dose, and up to 10 to 20 years after the second dose.

In addition to the vaccine, hepatitis A can be prevented by adopting certain behaviours: 

  • Wash your hands after each bowel movement¬†

  • Avoid oral-anal sexual contact (from the anus to the mouth)¬†

  • When visiting high-risk areas, avoid drinking tap water, eating ice cubes, salads, peeled fruit, seafood or street foods.

Hepatitis B:

The main protection against hepatitis B is also vaccination. 3 doses are necessary to enjoy a prolonged immunity. 

In addition to the vaccine, hepatitis B can be prevented by adopting certain behaviours:

  • Use a condom during all genital contact, and every time you have oral, vaginal or anal sex.¬†

  • Avoid sharing needles or equipment used for drug use.¬†

  • Avoid sharing toothbrushes, razors, files or other personal items that may have blood on them.

Hepatitis C: 

  • Use a condom during all genital contact, and every time you have oral, vaginal or anal sex.¬†

  • Avoid sharing needles or drug paraphernalia¬†

  • Avoid sharing toothbrushes, razors, files or other personal items that may have blood on them¬†

Complications

For chronic carriers of hepatitis B and C, possible complications include: 

  • Cirrhosis of the liver (irreversible liver damage)¬†

  • Liver cancer

Hepatitis treatments

  • Hepatitis A

    Heals on its own without any treatment, although supportive medication is sometimes prescribed to relieve symptoms.

  • Hepatitis B

    In most cases, the infection heals on its own within 6 months. The body gets rid of the virus and produces antibodies that protect the person from further infection with the hepatitis B virus. The person is usually protected for life.

    Although there is currently no cure for hepatitis B, there are treatments that can limit complications and even treat some chronic carriers of the disease.

  • Hepatitis C

    In most cases, however, the body cannot get rid of the virus. There is no cure for the infection and the person can transmit hepatitis C even if he or she has no symptoms.

    Although there is currently no cure for hepatitis C, there are treatments that can limit complications and even treat some chronic carriers of the disease.

It is also recommended that sexual and drug-using partners be contacted so that they too can be tested and diagnosed if necessary.

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