Hepatitis

What is it?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, and is often caused by a virus. Hepatitis A, B, and C are common hepatitis viruses in Canada. You can get vaccination shots for hepatitis A and B, but not for hepatitis C.

How do I get it?

Hepatitis A is found in the feces (poo) of people with the virus and usually spreads by close personal contact (including sex or sharing a living space). Sexual acts involving the anus, such as rimming (licking around or in the anus), should be done with this in mind. Hepatitis A can also be spread by food or drinking water contaminated with the virus.

Hepatitis B is spread through infected body fluids such as semen, blood, vaginal fluids, and saliva. This means it can be passed through sex without condoms. Sharing needles used to inject drugs or get tattoos, or the equipment used with the needles is also a high risk. It can survive in dried body fluids on toothbrushes, nail clippers, towels, razors etc. for up to about seven hours.

Hepatitis C is found only in blood. It’s mainly spread when things like injection drug needles or tattoo equipment are shared. Hepatitis C can also be transmitted by sharing crack pipes and ‘sniffing’ gear. There is a slight chance that it can be spread during sex (this increases when there is bleeding). Hepatitis C can live in dried blood on toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers etc. for up to about four hours so these devices should not be shared.

What should I be looking for?

Most people who become infected with the virus have no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they appear two to six months after the virus is caught and can include:

  • Poor appetite, nausea, vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Feeling very tired or generally not well
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
  • Dark urine/pee
  • Pale feces/poo

Even if a person doesn’t have symptoms, the virus is still damaging their liver, and they can still pass it to others.

How do I get tested?

Hepatitis is diagnosed by a blood test at your health care provider’s office or clinic.

Can I get rid of it?

Some people can get the hepatitis virus and then have it go away on its own while others can have it for life. If the virus goes away, there can still be permanent damage caused by scarring of the liver, and there can be a higher chance of liver cancer in the future.

Hepatitis A runs its course and goes away usually after a few weeks to several months. Hepatitis B goes away naturally in about 90% of people; the other 10% will have it for life. 80% of people with Hep C will have it for the rest of their lives. There are some treatments available to manage the symptoms of the virus.

Vaccines

Hepatitis A and B can be prevented by vaccinations. Since the 1990s, most people raised in Canada have been vaccinated for hepatitis B in elementary school. A hepatitis test can tell you if your body is still immune to the virus. Hepatitis A vaccines are generally only given to people who are at risk of catching it. If you have any sex that involves the anus (rimming, or anal sex), it’s a good idea to ask your health care provider for the hepatitis A vaccination.