Hesperian Health Guides
Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, often caused by a virus. There are many types of hepatitis, but hepatitis B and hepatitis C can be spread through sex or blood. Hepatitis B spreads very easily from one person to another, especially during sex. Hepatitis C is more likely to be spread through blood to blood contact and is less likely to be spread by sex alone. Sex when menstruating or when there is another STI, especially HIV, make it more likely to pass hepatitis C through sex. Hepatitis B and C can lead to permanent damage to the liver (cirrhosis), liver cancer, and even death. Hepatitis C is a major cause of death for people with HIV/AIDS.
Both hepatitis B and C can pass to a baby in the womb.
Signs of Hepatitis B
- no appetite
- tired and weak feeling
- yellow eyes and sometimes yellow skin (especially the palms of the hands and soles of the feet)
- pain in the belly or nausea
- brown, cola-colored urine, and whitish colored stools
Signs of Hepatitis C
Same as the signs of hepatitis B or there might be no signs until many years after getting infected.
Many people do not even know they have it until they are tested.
There are now medicines that treat hepatitis B and C, and can even cure hepatitis C. Getting cured of hepatitis C doesn’t prevent you from getting it again if you are exposed. Get tested at your health center to find out what kind of hepatitis you might have and what medicines are available. Even without medicines, you can still feel better and help your liver heal by getting plenty of rest, and drinking juices, broths or vegetable soups. To control nausea and vomiting, sip sodas, ginger drinks, or teas such as chamomile. However, do not drink any alcohol. Even a little alcohol will further harm the liver and make you feel worse. Do not use paracetamol (acetaminophen or Tylenol) or medicines that have it as an ingredient because it can be harmful for an inflamed liver. If needed, take ibuprofen or aspirin instead. There is more information about caring for the liver with hepatitis in the chapter Belly Pain, Diarrhea, and Worms.
Always use a condom during sex, and do not share needles or other supplies when injecting drugs. Use fresh ink and make sure tools for tattooing, scarring, piercing, or cutting the skin are always sterilized before use because the hepatitis C virus can live on open surfaces or in liquid for 3 weeks. Hepatitis C can even be spread by sharing toothbrushes or razors. Do not share these with other people either.
The vaccine that prevents hepatitis B is a series of 3 injections for infants, usually given along with other vaccinations during the first 6 months of life. If the mother has been vaccinated, a baby will not get the virus during birth. Older children and adults that were not vaccinated as infants can still be vaccinated.