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Indiana State Department of Health

HIV/AIDS in Indiana > Frequently Asked Questions > Viral Hepatitis Viral Hepatitis

Adult Viral Hepatitis Questions 

Q:  What is hepatitis A and how is it transmitted?

A: Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is spread from person to person by putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of a person with hepatitis A. This type of transmission is called "fecal-oral." For this reason, the virus is more easily spread in areas where there are poor sanitary conditions or where good personal hygiene is not observed. HAV is commonly transmitted by ingesting food contaminated by an infected food handler during the preparation process. Infections may also result from contact with a household member or sex partner who has HAV. Proper hand washing and food handling are keys to the prevention of HAV. Casual contact, as in the usual office, factory, or school setting, does not spread the virus.

Q:  What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis A?

A:  Persons with hepatitis A virus infection may not have any signs or symptoms of the disease. Older persons are more likely to have symptoms than children. If symptoms are present, they usually occur abruptly and may include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). Symptoms usually last less than 2 months; a few persons are ill for as long as 6 months. The average incubation period for hepatitis A is 28 days (range: 15–50 days).

Q:  How do you know if you have hepatitis A?

A:  A blood test (IgM anti-HAV) is needed to diagnose hepatitis A.   Talk to your doctor or someone from your local health department if you suspect that you have been exposed to hepatitis A or any type of viral hepatitis.

Q:  How can you prevent hepatitis A?

A: 
Always wash your hands after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing or eating food. Two products are used to prevent hepatitis A virus infection:  immune globulin and hepatitis A vaccine.

  1. Immune globulin is a preparation of antibodies that can be given before exposure for short-term protection against hepatitis A and for persons who have already been exposed to hepatitis A virus. Immune globulin must be given within 2 weeks after exposure to hepatitis A virus for maximum protection. 
  2. Hepatitis A vaccine has been licensed in the United States for use in persons 2 years of age and older.  The vaccine is recommended (before exposure to hepatitis A virus) for persons who are more likely to get hepatitis A virus infection or is more likely to get seriously ill if they do get hepatitis A.  The vaccines currently licensed in the United States are HAVRIX® (manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline) and VAQTA® (manufactured by Merck & Co., Inc).

    Q:  What is Hepatitis B and how is it transmitted?

    A:  Hepatitis B is caused by a virus that attacks the liver.  The virus, which is called hepatitis B virus (HBV), can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death. HBV is spread when blood or body fluids from an infected person enters the body of a person who is not infected.  For example, HBV is spread through having sex with an infected person without using a protective barrier (the efficacy of latex condoms in preventing infection with HBV is unknown, but their proper use might reduce transmission), by sharing drugs, needles, or "works" when "shooting" drugs, through needlesticks or sharps exposures on the job, or from an infected mother to her baby during birth.  Hepatitis B is not spread through food or water, sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, coughing, sneezing or by casual contact.

    Q:  What are the signs and symptoms of Hepatitis B?

    A:  Sometimes a person with HBV infection has no symptoms at all. The older you are, the more apt you are to have symptoms. You might be infected with HBV (and be spreading the virus) and not know it. If you have symptoms, they might include:

    • Yellow skin or yellowing of the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
    • Tiredness
    • Loss of appetite
    • Nausea
    • Abdominal discomfort
    • Dark urine
    • Clay-colored bowel movements
    • Joint pain

    Q:  How do you know if you have Hepatitis B?

    A:  A blood test (HBsAg) is needed to diagnose HAV infection. Talk to your doctor or someone from your local health department if you suspect that you have been exposed to hepatitis B or any type of viral hepatitis.

    Q:  What is Hepatitis C and how is it transmitted?

    A:  Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is found in the blood of persons who have this disease.  HCV is spread by contact with the blood of an infected person. HCV is spread primarily by direct contact with human blood.  For example, you may have gotten infected with HCV if:

    • you ever injected or snorted street drugs, as the needles and/or other drug "works" used to prepare or inject the drug(s) may have had someone else's blood that contained HCV on them.
    • you received blood, blood products, or solid organs from a donor whose blood contained HCV prior to 1992.
    • you were ever on long-term kidney dialysis as you may have unknowingly shared supplies/equipment that had someone else's blood on them.
    • you were ever a healthcare worker and had frequent contact with blood on the job, especially accidental needlesticks.
      your mother had hepatitis C at the time she gave birth to you. During the birth her blood may have gotten into your body.
      you ever had sex with a person infected with HCV.
    • you lived with someone who was infected with HCV and shared items such as razors or toothbrushes that might have had his/her blood on them.

    Q:  What are the signs and symptoms of Hepatitis C?

    A:  Usually those with HCV have no signs and symptoms of HCV infection until the disease has progressed to its later stages. However, signs and symptoms may include:

    • Yellow skin or yellowing of the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
    • Tiredness
    • Loss of appetite
    • Nausea
    • Abdominal discomfort
    • Dark urine
    • Clay-colored bowel movements
    • Joint pain

    Q:  How do you know if you have Hepatitis C?

    A:  A blood test (EIA – 3) is needed to diagnose HCV infection. Talk to your doctor or someone from your local health department if you suspect that you have been exposed to hepatitis C or any type of viral hepatitis.

     

    Q:  Where can I find additional information about Viral Hepatitis?

    A:  There are a number of reliable web resources for accessing additional information about Viral Hepatitis including, but not limited to:

    Indiana State Department of Health Hepatitis Resource and Services Guide

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Hepatitis)

    Hepatitis Foundation International

    HCV Advocate