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Hepatitis is a disease that affects the liver. There are several different forms, each causes a slightly different disease and each spreads in a different way.

Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is caused by the Hepatitis A virus. It is a contagious disease that attacks the liver. It is the most common type of viral hepatitis and one of the most frequently reported vaccine preventable diseases in the United States.

Hepatitis A virus is usually 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 the "fecal-oral" route. 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. Frequent handwashing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing food can help prevent the spread of Hepatitis A.

Most infections in the United States result from contact with a household member or sex partner who has Hepatitis A. Hepatitis A virus may also be spread by consuming food or drink that has been handled by an infected person. Casual contact, as in the usual office, factory, or school setting, does not spread the virus.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A commonly appear within 28 days of exposure, with a range of 15-50 days. Symptoms of Hepatitis A may range from mild to severe and can include an abrupt onset of fever, fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, stomach pain, dark-colored urine and jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes). The disease is rarely fatal and most people recover in a few weeks without any complications.

The best way to prevent Hepatitis A is through vaccination with the Hepatitis A vaccine. The Hepatitis A vaccine is made from a killed virus and is administered in the upper arm. Vaccination is recommended for all children, for travelers to certain countries, and for people at high risk for infection with the virus. Two doses of the vaccine are required for full protection. The vaccine usually causes very little reaction, except for some soreness in the upper arm.

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Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a serious liver disease caused by a virus. The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) can lead to severe illness, liver damage, liver cancer and even death. Hepatitis B infects about 300,000 people each year, and kills about 5,000 people each year.

About one-quarter of Hepatitis B carriers develop chronic hepatitis. Each year, 5,000 people in the U.S. die of liver failure related to hepatitis B. Another 1,500 die from liver cancer related to Hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B vaccine can provide protection against this dangerous disease. The vaccine can be given to infants, children and adults in three shots over six months. Hepatitis B vaccine is very safe and side effects are rare. All three shots are needed for full protection. Even pregnant women can be given the vaccine if their risk of getting the infection during their pregnancy is high, for example, if a spouse has a recent infection.

Hepatitis B immunizations are required for all children attending school in New York State. Children born after January 1, 1995 require Hepatitis B immunization before entry into day care or pre-school. Children born after January 1, 1993 are required to have Hepatitis B immunization before kindergarten entry.

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Hepatitis C
This disease, (formerly called non-A, non-B hepatitis) is a liver disease caused by a recently identified blood-borne virus. Like Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C is spread by exposure to blood from an infected person, such as through blood transfusion or sharing of needles.  The risk of sexual transmission has not been thoroughly studied but appears to be small. There is no evidence that the Hepatitis C virus can be transmitted by casual contact, through foods or by coughing or sneezing.

There are no special medicines or antibiotics that can be used to treat people with the acute form of Hepatitis C but the FDA has approved a drug call recombinant alpha interferon for treating people with chronic Hepatitis C. At the present time, a Hepatitis C vaccine is not available.

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