May is Viral Hepatitis Month

Indiana Epidemiology Newsletter
April 2007

In order to promote awareness of viral hepatitis, the second annual Indiana HepFest was held on May 4-5, 2007. There was no charge for admission. HepFest provided free blood testing, education, music, and food. The event was held in Auburn at the World War II Victory Museum. For more information, please contact Christie Soaper at

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis can result from alcoholism, drug use, cancer, and/or infectious disease. Although several infectious agents can cause hepatitis, five specific viruses (A-E) are responsible for most cases. In the United States, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are responsible for the highest burden of disease.

Viral hepatitis causes significant medical, public health, and financial burdens for Indiana residents. Viral hepatitis can become a chronic (lifelong) infection requiring prolonged, advanced medical care, including liver transplants. Chronic hepatitis can lead to liver cancer, cirrhosis (liver scarring), liver failure, and even death. Many people who are infected show no symptoms and can unknowingly transmit the infection to others. In the U.S., thousands of new cases are reported each year, and an estimated 4.5 million people live with chronic hepatitis.

The symptoms of acute (newly acquired) hepatitis A, B, and C are the same. Symptoms occur more often or are more severe in adults than in children, and symptoms do not occur at all in some cases of viral hepatitis. Symptoms may include:

  • tiredness
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • abdominal discomfort
  • dark urine
  • clay-colored bowel movements
  • yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

Although symptoms for all hepatitis viruses are similar, the viruses are spread very differently. Hepatitis A virus is spread through the fecal-oral route, when a person consumes food or drink that has been contaminated with the stool from an infected person or by close contact with someone who is infected. Both hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses can be spread by exposure to blood or body fluids, e.g., unprotected sex (more common with hepatitis B), intravenous drug use, needle sticks, or from an infected mother to baby during pregnancy and delivery.

Safe and effective vaccination is available for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, and vaccination is the most important preventive measure. The Advisory Council on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends both vaccines in the routine childhood immunization schedule. It is especially important for adults to be vaccinated against hepatitis A if traveling internationally and to be vaccinated against hepatitis B if sexually active. Those who are infected with hepatitis C are encouraged to be vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B to prevent further liver infection. Reduction of other risk factors, such as practicing safer sex and avoiding intravenous drug use, is also important to prevent infection.

For Indiana statistics on viral hepatitis, please visit:

For more information on viral hepatitis, please visit: