Hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B and C are spread through infected blood and body fluids. Hepatitis B is spread most often during sexual contact and when people share needles to inject drugs.
Hepatitis C also is spread through shared needles. Both types can be spread when an infected person shares items such as razors or toothbrushes.
Sometimes a baby is infected at birth because the mother has hepatitis.
Less common causes include:
Many people get hepatitis without knowing how they got it. And many people have hepatitis for years without knowing it, because they have no symptoms.
Both hepatitis B and C can cause serious liver problems, such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure. But some people never have serious problems.
Most adults who get hepatitis B have it for a short time and then get better on their own.
Most people who get hepatitis C will have a long-term infection that may never go away, even with treatment.
You can have a blood test to find out if you have hepatitis B or hepatitis C. A small amount of blood is drawn from your arm. The blood is sent to a lab.
The test looks for hepatitis antibodies. Having these antibodies means that you have been exposed to hepatitis, but it does not mean that you now have an active infection.
If the test shows that you have been exposed to hepatitis B or C, your blood may be tested again to see if the virus is still in your blood. The second test shows whether you have an active hepatitis infection. For the second test, the lab may use some of the blood that was already drawn, or you may need to have more blood drawn.
If you find out that you have hepatitis B or C, you have to decide whether to get treatment.
Your doctor might advise you to get tested for hepatitis B or C if:
Experts also recommend that all adults born from 1945 to 1965 should be tested for hepatitis C.1, 2 People in this age group are more likely to have hepatitis C and not know it.
|Get tested for hepatitis||Don't get tested for hepatitis|
|What is usually involved?|
|What are the benefits?|
|What are the risks and side effects?|
Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.
These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.
"I have been sexually active for years and have had at least a dozen sex partners. I'm going to have a hepatitis test. I have a friend who went through treatment a year or so ago. He was pretty miserable, but he came out all right. If he can do it, I can. I think I owe it to myself to find out if I have hepatitis."
— Jax, age 40
"I had several sex partners when I was in my 20s, but I don't consider myself promiscuous. I worry that I could have hepatitis, but the treatment sounds very unpleasant and might not even work. I think the odds are in my favor that I don't have hepatitis, so I'm not going to be tested."
— Karen, age 33
"I did drugs in my teens and shared needles a couple of times. I also got a tattoo in Tijuana over spring break one year. I just recently read an article about hepatitis C, and I think I'll get tested. I don't want to deal with the treatment decision right now, but I want to know if I have it."
— Malik, age 29
"I lived with a woman who had hepatitis C, and I watched her go through the treatment. She had a rough time of it for a year. I don't think I could handle feeling that sick for so long. So I'm not going to be tested, because I don't think I would go through the treatment even if it turned out I have hepatitis."
— Sam, age 44
Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.
Reasons to get tested for hepatitis
Reasons not to get tested for hepatitis
If I tested positive, I would be willing to deal with the side effects of treatment.
I wouldn't be willing to put myself through the side effects of treatment.
If I tested positive, I would want to tell people I might have given it to, so they could get tested.
I wouldn't want to tell people, because I'm worried that it would hurt my relationships.
I want to know for sure if I need to use condoms and take other steps so that I don't spread hepatitis.
I'm already careful. I use condoms every time I have sex.
I'm more worried about having hepatitis than I am about maybe having to tell people that I am infected.
I'm more worried that I might have to tell people I'm infected than I am about having hepatitis.
My other important reasons:
My other important reasons:
Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.
NOT getting tested
1. If I get hepatitis, I need treatment to get better.
2. I might never know that I have hepatitis if I don't get tested.
3. My getting tested might help other people.
1. Do you understand the options available to you?
2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?
1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?
2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.
3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||W. Thomas London, MD - Hepatology|
Smith BD, et al. (2012). Recommendations for the identification of chronic hepatitis C virus infection among persons born during 1945–1965. MMWR, 61(RR-4): 1–32. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr6104a1.htm.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2013). Screening for Hepatitis C Virus Infection in Adults: Recommendation Statement. Available online: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspshepc.htm.