A college-level medical terminology course would teach you that the prefix “hepat-” means liver and the suffix “-itis” means inflammation. So, hepatitis means your liver is inflamed. While folks usually assume liver inflammation is caused by heavy alcohol use, toxins, and side effects from certain medications, it is important to know it is also caused by viral infections.

The most common types of viruses in the US that cause liver infections are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. In Philadelphia, recent data tells us that 24,633 people in the city were living with chronic hepatitis B in 2021 while 52,640 people were living with chronic hepatitis C.

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are spread through contact with blood and semen of people living with the infection. Hepatitis B is spread these ways and spread through vaginal fluid. Hepatitis A, while more uncommon than hepatitis B and hepatitis C, is highly contagious, and is spread when the feces, or poop, of a sick person comes in contact with food or drink, or through close contact with other people.

Symptoms of viral hepatitis infections can include fever, nausea, jaundice, and abdominal pain.  All three viruses cause acute or short infections, but hepatitis B and hepatitis C cause chronic or lifelong disease for many people. When left untreated, hepatitis B and hepatitis C can cause serious liver damage or liver cancer, and death.

Unfortunately, these types of infections that cause liver inflammation cannot be cured by cutting back on spicy margaritas at happy hour or trying Hollywood’s latest herbal liver detox.  However, there are several ways to protect yourself from hepatitis A, B, & C.  Vaccines are available for both hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Talk to your provider or visit hepcap.org to find a vaccinating pharmacy near you. You can also prevent the spread of hepatitis B and hepatitis C by practicing safer sex, not sharing household items such as razors, tweezers, and toothbrushes, using new syringes and works every time, and making sure your tattoo artist or piercer uses sterile equipment.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends adults 18 years and older get tested for both hepatitis B and hepatitis C at least once in their lifetime. While there is no cure for hepatitis B, treatments are available to alleviate symptoms and to reduce liver damage. Hepatitis C, however, is curable with medication. For more information on hepatitis B and hepatitis C prevention and where to be treated, visit phillyhepatitis.org.

The Health Department’s Viral Hepatitis Program is working to prevent and address hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Program initiatives and activities include measuring hepatitis B and hepatitis C incidence and prevalence, working with the medical community to improve clinical and prevention activities, and promoting best practices for people to get vaccinated for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. It is also working to promote testing for hepatitis A, B, or C, links to care, and case management to reduce and address transmission to babies from people who are giving birth. The Viral Hepatitis Program is also working on a plan, to be released this year, that will help eliminate hepatitis B and hepatitis C in Philadelphia. For information on the plan, visit Philadelphia Hepatitis B & Hepatitis C Elimination Plan Community Engagement Executive Summary.

This Hepatitis Awareness Month, get educated on ways to help eliminate viral hepatitis from Philadelphia. If you would like educational materials for you or your community, please email HEP-DDC@phila.gov.  Stay informed about Philly’s hepatitis-related happenings by subscribing to the HepCAP and HepB United monthly newsletters.