Medical myths: all about hepatitis

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IN our Medical Myths series, we approach medical misinformation head on. Using expert insight and peer reviewed research to wrestle fact from fiction, MNT brings clarity to the myth riddled world of health journalism. How common is hepatitis C? Art by Diego Sabogal

Hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver. Most commonly, it develops due to a viral infection or alcohol consumption, but it can also result from toxins, drugs, and certain conditions, including autoimmune conditions.

There are five main typesTrusted Source of hepatitis: A, B, C, D, and E. Hepatitis B and C are the most common.

In this article, we address and dispel 11 myths that are commonly associated with hepatitis. To help us unravel some of these misunderstandings, we enlisted the help of two experts.

One is Shelley Facente, Ph.D., who is a research associate in the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, Berkeley. The other is Dr. Lauren Nephew, who is a gastroenterologist at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis.

Some types of hepatitis are self-limiting, which means that they clear up on their own. Others can cause liver cancer or permanent liver damage. “The hepatitis viruses are actually very different,” Facente told us.

She outlined the differences between hepatitis A, B, and C:
“Hepatitis ATrusted Source often makes people feel very sick for a short time, but it is very rare to have any kind of serious complications or long lasting illness.

Hepatitis BTrusted Source can be very serious if a person’s initial viral infection becomes a chronic infection, but that happens in only 2–6% of adults, and some people never have symptoms during their initial infection (though the majority do).

Hepatitis CTrusted Source often doesn’t cause symptoms at first, but around 60–80%Trusted Source of people with a hepatitis C infection go on to develop [a] chronic infection, which eventually can lead to liver cancer, liver cirrhosis, and death if left untreated.”

“This is why it’s important to be vaccinated for hepatitis A and B and screened for hepatitis C at least once, even if you feel well,” Facente explained.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 325 million peopleTrusted Source have hepatitis B, C, or both. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that in the United States in 2019.

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