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The liver is a triangular-shaped organ tucked under the ribcage on the right side of the body. In an average adult, the liver is about the size of a football and weighs about three pounds. The liver is responsible for filtering out toxins from the blood, aiding with digestion and metabolism, and producing many important substances including blood-clotting proteins.
Hepatitis is a liver disease spread through blood contact and comes in three types, A, B, and C. Hepatitis A is a liver infection that does not lead to long-term health problems and almost always goes away on its own. However, hepatitis B and C are more serious and require monitoring and care.
In the United States, routine screening of blood donors for hepatitis B began in 1971. The most accurate screening test for hepatitis C became available in 1992. Treatment for children’s cancer often requires transfusion of blood and blood products. Survivors who received blood products before these dates may have been infected with hepatitis B or C.
Most people do not experience symptoms of hepatitis B or C when first infected. Some people have symptoms similar to the flu, such as fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, or low-grade fever. Some people may experience symptoms more directly related to the liver, such as jaundice (yellowish eyes and skin), dark urine, severe itching, or pale (clay-colored) stools. In rare cases, people may become very ill and develop liver failure.
Unfortunately, many people who become infected with hepatitis B or C during childhood become “chronically” infected. People with chronic hepatitis infections may have no symptoms and feel well, but they are at risk for scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver and other complications. In rare cases, liver cancer can develop. People with chronic hepatitis infections are also at risk for spreading the infection to others.
A blood test can be done to check for hepatitis:
Anyone who received the following blood or serum products is at risk for hepatitis B (if transfused before 1972) and hepatitis C (if transfused before 1992):
Other risk factors include:
People at risk for hepatitis B or C should have blood tests to see if they are infected. If the blood tests show evidence of chronic hepatitis infection they should:
If someone has chronic hepatitis, they should also:
Hepatitis B and C are not spread by casual contact, such as hugging or shaking hands. However, if someone has hepatitis B or C they can prevent spreading the infection to others by: