The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) causes inflammation and destruction of the cells of the liver. Approximately 20% of those who become infected with HBV continue to carry the virus for their lifetime. These people are called “chronic carriers”. Chronic carriers of HBV ultimately have high rates of death due to cirrhosis (liver cell destruction) and cancer of the liver.
Hepatitis B is spread from one person to another through some body fluids (blood and the fluids secreted from both the male and female sexual tract). Thus, a person may contract Hepatitis B by blood transfusion, sexual intercourse, or anything else that may transfer the infected blood of one person to another (IV needles, razor blades, and possibly toothbrushes [though saliva alone is not known to harbor the virus]).
Another important “vector of transmission” is from mother to baby. Although in rare instances a mother may transfer the virus to the baby during pregnancy, most mother-to-baby transmission occurs during labor and birth through the normal loss of maternal blood. The babies of mothers known to have “Hep B” should begin a series of immune globulin shots immediately after birth.
It is currently recommended that all infants and children get immunized with the relatively new Hepatitis B Vaccine. If you have a teenager who missed this series of vaccinations (or if you have more than one sexual partner), it is advisable to receive the vaccine before you get pregnant.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the new kid on the block…..previously referred to as non-A, non-B hepatitis, because the virus could not be identified. HCV has now been identified, categorized, and can now be detected with available antibody detection tests. However, not nearly as much is known about HCV compared to Hepatitis B or Hepatitis A.
Transmission is primarily through infected blood transmissions (almost exclusively through blood transfusions in hospitals). Recently, there is evidence that transmission occurs through IV needle sharing, sexual intercourse, and between mother and fetus.
There is currently no vaccine or treatment for HCV infection. Like HBV, approximately 20% of those infected become chronic carriers.
Specific viruses for both hepatitis D and E have been identified. There are diagnostic tests for the antibodies to both viruses, but they are relatively rare except in developing countries.