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Preventing hepatitis B or C

Hepatitis B and C virus infection cause irritation and swelling of the liver. Since both of these infections may cause chronic liver disease, you should take several steps to prevent catching or spreading these viruses.

See also: Preventing hepatitis A

Vaccines

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

All children should receive their first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine at birth, and complete the series of three shots by age 6 months. Children younger than age 19 who have not been vaccinated should receive "catch-up" doses.

People who are at high risk, including health care workers and those who live with someone who has hepatitis B, should get the hepatitis B vaccine. Others for whom the vaccine is recommended include:

  • Men who have sex with other men
  • People with end-stage kidney disease, chronic liver disease, or HIV infection
  • People with multiple sexual partners
  • People who use recreational, injectable drugs

Lifestyle

Hepatitis B and C viruses cannot be spread by casual contact, such as holding hands, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, breastfeeding, kissing, hugging, coughing, or sneezing.

Lifestyle measures for preventing spread of hepatitis B and C from one person to another include:

  • Avoid sharing personal items, such as razors or toothbrushes.
  • Do not share drug needles or other drug equipment (such as straws for snorting drugs).
  • Clean blood spills with a solution containing 1 part household bleach to¬†9 parts water.
  • Be careful when getting tattoos and body piercings.

All people who have sex outside of a monogamous relationship should practice safer sex behaviors to avoid hepatitis B and C.

Regarding sexual contact with those known to have chronic hepatitis:

  • Hepatitis B: avoid sexual contact with a person who has chronic hepatitis B.
  • Hepatitis C: the risk of becoming infected with hepatitis C is low when a person is in a stable, monogamous relationship with someone with hepatitis C. It is recommended you make no changes in sexual practices

Other Steps You Can Take

Infants born to mothers who either have active hepatitis B infection or have had the infection should receive a special vaccination given within 12 hours of birth. That includes hepatitis B immune globulin and a hepatitis B immunization.

Screening of all donated blood has reduced the chance of getting hepatitis B from a blood transfusion. All newly diagnosed hepatitis B infections should be reported to state health care workers to track people who have been exposed to the virus.

The hepatitis B vaccine or a hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) shot may be given to help prevent hepatitis B infection in anyone within 24 hours of exposure to blood or body fluids from a person with hepatitis B.

Avoid contact with blood or blood products whenever possible. Health care workers should follow precautions when handling blood and bodily fluids.

References

Perrillo R. Hepatitis B and D. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2010:chap 78.

Chronic viral and autoimmune hepatitis. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 151.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2011 immunization schedules for children 0 to 18 years of age. October 28, 2010.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended adult immunization schedule. United States. 2011 Proposed Revisions. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. October 28, 2010.

Updated: 10/27/2011

George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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