It's Hepatitis Awareness Month. Understanding the different forms of hepatitis, who is at risk and how it can be prevented and treated can be confusing. Mayo Clinic infectious diseases expert Stacey Rizza, M.D., offers the following primer:
Hepatitis A -- A highly contagious viral condition that causes inflammation affecting the liver's ability to function, hepatitis A is most likely contracted from contaminated food, water or someone already infected. Mild cases don't require treatment, and most who have the infection recover completely with no permanent liver damage.
Effective vaccines are available and recommended for children at age 1; for older children who didn't get the vaccine at age 1; and for people traveling to areas with high rates of the illness, among others. Practicing good hand hygiene is one of the best ways to protect against hepatitis A.
Hepatitis B -- For some people, hepatitis B infection becomes chronic, leading to liver failure, liver cancer or cirrhosis -- a condition that causes permanent scarring of the liver. It is spread through bodily fluids. Most people infected as adults recover fully, even if their signs and symptoms are severe. Infants and children are much more likely to develop a chronic hepatitis B infection.
Although no cure exists for hepatitis B, treatment options are available and a vaccine can prevent the disease. Vaccination is recommended for infants; children who weren't vaccinated in infancy; people being treated for a sexually transmitted infection; health care workers and others who come in contact with blood on the job; people with end-stage kidney disease; and people traveling to areas with high rates of hepatitis B, among others. If a person is already infected, taking certain precautions can help prevent the spread of hepatitis B to others.