The ABCs of Viral Hepatitis: Understanding Hepatitis A and B

What is Hepatitis A/B

Viral Hepatitis are infection of the liver caused by hepatitis viruses – A, B, C, D, and E. The hepatitis viruses A, B, and C are several times more resilient and contagious than HIV. It is therefore especially important for people who have anal sex to protect themselves from infection. Hepatitis A is a self-limiting acute infection which means it doesn’t last for a long duration. Hepatitis B and C infections can be chronic in nature and can last for months to years. There are differences in how each of these viral hepatitis infections are transmitted, what effects they cause and how they can be prevented.


How do I know?

Not everyone with hepatitis A has symptoms. Adults are more likely to have symptoms than children. If symptoms develop, they usually appear 2 to 7 weeks after infection. Symptoms usually last less than 2 months, although some people can be ill for as long as 6 months.

If symptoms develop, they can include: 

Yellow skin or eyes, not wanting to eat, upset stomach, throwing up, stomach pain and/or fever, dark urine or light- colored stools, diarrhea, joint pain, feeling tired. Similarly, not all people newly infected with HBV have symptoms, but for those that do, symptoms can include fatigue, poor appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice. Blood tests can help in knowing whether you have hepatitis A or B. For hepatitis B, in order to know what kind of treatment is required, further testing is done including viral load, ultrasound of the liver. 


How do we get infected? And how do I protect myself?

Hepatitis A and B are infectious liver infections. Both are also sexually transmissible. Hepatitis A spreads when someone intakes through mouth the virus through close, personal contact with an infected person, or through eating contaminated food or drink, or through sexual contact. Hepatitis B spreads either through unprotected sex where there is contact with bodily fluids or mucous membranes like blood, semen/genital secretions, anal mucosa etc. Hepatitis doesn’t spread through kissing/breast feeding/sharing utensils and food. Hepatitis B also spreads through sharing infected needles during drug use, mother-to-child during pregnancy and childbirth, and infected blood transfusion. 

You can protect yourself from Hepatitis A and B with two effective methods: condom, and vaccination. The vaccination consists of several shots after varying intervals. Since Hepatitis B can become a chronic infection with complications like liver cirrhosis, it is highly recommended to vaccinate yourself with Hep B vaccine. 

After the vaccination, you are immunized against Hepatitis A. For a proper protection of Hepatitis B, you must have your immunity checked to see if it is sufficient. If not, a booster vaccination is necessary. Safe needle use, and not sharing equipment is also recommended to prevent hepatitis B and C.


How is it treated? 

Hepatitis A is a self-limiting infection, which doesn’t need any specific antiviral drugs. The management would entail symptomatic relief, resting, fluids, and good nutrition. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis B in its acute stage. Most infections resolve on their own but a small proportion can progress to chronic stage. At this point, the provider will take the decision on starting antivirals based on the viral load, and other tests based on the disease stage and the treatment can be life long.


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About the Author: Raju Behara (she/they), a trans-disabled Peer Support Provider with a decade of healthcare experience, holds a Masters in Pharmacology and a PG Diploma in Health Economics, Health Policy at the Indian Institute of Public Health. Aligned with the Safe Access Community Wellbeing Project, Raju has contributed to LGBTQIA+ safety in Indian workplaces, drafting gender-neutral dress codes and working on sensitization. A published author and poet in various anthologies, Raju, through EQUAL fellowship, chronicled social histories of housing, healthcare and workplace discrimination for queer-trans individuals in India. They initiated ‘Queer & Quarantine’, a crisis intervention program for trans folks facing housing challenges.

Article Vetted by: Dr. Swathi SB


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