STD/STI: Hepatitis (A, B and E)

Hepatitis technically refers to inflammation of the liver, which can have several possible causes. However, there are five viruses that can cause hepatitis, known as Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. Of these five, three can be transmitted sexually.

Hep B is the sexual infection most people are familiar with. Vaccinations for Hep B are routinely given to infants and children in the US and some other part of the world. A vaccine for Hep A was developed in the 1990s, and has been given to children in the US since 1995. Hep E is rare in the US and Europe, but common in some areas of Asia. A vaccine for Hep E has been developed in China, but as far as I know it is currently available nowhere else in the world..

Transmission: Hep A and E are both transmitting by ingesting infected feces. These versions of hep are not usually considered STD/STIs, but oral/anal contact during sex or anal sex followed by oral sex can cause infection. Hep B is transmitted through bodily fluids, so infection can occur through any sexual contact.

Prevention: Men who have sex with men, and other folks who routinely engage in anal sex are advised to speak with their doctors about getting vaccinated for Hep A, assuming they were not already vaccinated as children. Use barrier methods prevent direct skin-to-skin contact during sexual activities. Clean your hands well after coming in contact with other people’s bodily fluids or anus. All forms of hep are extremely resilient and can survive outside the body. Surfaces (including sex toys) that might be infected should be cleaned with bleach or boiled (alcohol or other standard disinfectants will not work for hep).

Symptoms: Acute infection with all three forms of Hep most often resemble a severe flu, though sometimes there are no symptoms. Symptoms from Hep A and E usually last about two months and almost always clear up within six months. Symptoms of acute Hep B usually clear up in a few weeks, through chronic infection may develop. Chronic Hep B may not have symptoms, but can cause later complications.

Treatment: Usually acute infection clear up without treatment. If signs of acute liver failure develop (which is rare but possible) treatments include dialysis and liver transplant.

Diagnosis: All forms of hep are diagnosed based on reported symptoms and a blood test.

Complications: In severe cases, hep can result in liver failure and even death. Chronic Hep B can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and other liver related illnesses as a person ages.

With the development of vaccines, hep is less of a concern now than it was twenty years ago. Still, it is a good idea to take precautions if you have not been vaccinated. If you engage in any sexual activity that may involve contact with blood, you should also learn about Hep C.

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