- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. health officials have pledged to try to track
down millions of Americans who are infected with hepatitis C and do not
know it. Hepatitis C is just one of several viruses in the alphabet soup
of viruses in the hepatitis family. All strains attack the liver, causing
symptoms ranging from jaundice, a yellowing of the skin, to liver cancer.
Here is a brief description of them: Hepatitis A - The least severe of
the hepatitis infections, hepatitis A can cause jaundice, fatigue, abdominal
pain, nausea and diarrhea. It is passed in contaminated food and water.
Death is rare -- about 100 a year in the United States. There are an estimated
125,000 to 200,000 new hepatitis A infections every year in the United
States. Hepatitis A often clears up on its own. Hepatitis B - One of the
world's most common infectious diseases, hepatitis B affects about 350
million people and kills about one million people a year.
- It is most commonly transmitted by sexual
intercourse and intravenous drug use. There is a vaccine, and also a combined
hepatitis A/hepatitis B vaccine. Hepatitis C - Only discovered in 1988,
it is a leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and is the main cause
of liver transplants in the United States. It is not as infectious as hepatitis
A or B but is spread through blood and shared needles. Symptoms include
nausea, jaundice, fever and tenderness around the liver -- but there are
often no symptoms. There is no cure or vaccine but drugs such as interferon
alfa and ribavirin seem to help. A report in January in the New England
Journal of Medicine warned that people with hepatitis C faced a dramatically
higher risk of dying if they eat food infected with hepatitis A. Hepatitis
D - Associated with hepatitis B infection. People with both hepatitis B
and D have an 80 percent chance of chronic liver disease. Drug users are
the group at highest risk. Hepatitis E - Only three known strains have
been identified globally.
- It is a major cause of liver failure
in developing nations. Passed in the feces, and blood, infection is devastating
to pregnant women, killing 10 to 20 percent of women infected in their
third trimester. Hepatitis G - Very rare, it causes up to 2,000 infections
a year but most victims have no symptoms. It is transmitted in infected
blood and repeated exposure to hepatitis C seems to be a risk factor.