hepatitis myths vs facts: 14 essential facts everyone should know
Dr Chin Shi Yei, Primary Care Doctor

Hepatitis Myths vs. Facts: Dispelling Common Misconceptions

MYTH 1: All hepatitis viruses are basically the same

FACT: There are five types of hepatitis viruses: Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.
While Hepatitis viruses A and E are transmitted enterically (transmitted by infected food and water), viruses B and C are transmitted parenterally (through infected needles or blood) or sexually.
Hepatitis viruses A and E cause a short illness called Acute Viral Hepatitis, which lasts for a few weeks and resolves by itself in 99% of cases. Its main symptom is jaundice.
Hepatitis B and C cause a long-lasting illness called Chronic Viral Hepatitis, which lasts for years, having only mild symptoms such as fatigue, but may cause permanent damage to the liver leading to cirrhosis. Hepatitis D can pass via blood, or contact with other body fluids
Previous slide
Next slide

MYTH 2: Hepatitis is hereditary/genetic and can be passed from parent to child

FACT: Hepatitis is not genetic and cannot be inherited. While hepatitis B can be passed from mother to child during the birthing process, this is due to contact with fluids, not a genetic factor. Transmission by the mother can be prevented if she knows her HBV status and gets a dose of immunoglobulin within 12 hours before birth. 

MYTH 3: Hepatitis B is an advanced kind of liver disease that is always caused by hepatitis A, and will develop into hepatitis C

FACT: Hepatitis A, B, and C are all caused by different strains of the hepatitis virus. While symptoms can be similar, they are each transmitted in different ways and have distinct clinical manifestations. There are absolutely no progressions from one infection to the next; however, co-infection can happen. If a patient has hepatitis C, it is recommended they get the vaccine for both hepatitis A and B. Also, as we mentioned earlier, those with hepatitis B are at risk for contracting hepatitis D.

MYTH 4: You can tell when someone has hepatitis B/C by looking at them

FACT: Most people who are living with hepatitis B/C don’t have any symptoms in the early stages. You also can’t diagnose a person with viral hepatitis just by looking at them. There are physical symptoms associated with hepatitis, like jaundice, but a variety of other health conditions can cause that. 

MYTH 5: If you have hepatitis A, you’re immune from other types of the virus

FACT: Hepatitis A is a short-term infection. Most people usually recover within a few weeks of diagnosis. Those who have had hepatitis A have lifelong protection against HAV only. You are still at risk for other strains of the virus.

MYTH 6: There is no treatment for chronic hepatitis B

FACT: Although there is no cure for chronic hepatitis B, it can be managed with effective medications. These treatments can help control the disease, and patients need regular check-ups for life.

MYTH 7: You can contract hepatitis B through casual contact like kissing, sharing meals, shaking hands, or drinking out of the same cup or bottle

FACT: Hepatitis B can only be contracted through activities involving direct contact with infected bodily fluids, such as unprotected sex or contact with infected blood, for example, by sharing razors or needles.

MYTH 8: Hepatitis C only affects the liver

FACT: While hepatitis C does primarily affect the liver, it can also affect other parts of the body like the brain, pancreas, kidneys, and blood vessels. 

MYTH 9: Hepatitis C is an STD

FACT: Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood-to-blood exposure. While this can happen through sex, the risk of that type of transmission is very low. The majority of studies report a 0-3% chance of contracting hepatitis C through unprotected sex in a monogamous relationship. 

MYTH 10: It is not safe to breastfeed if I have Hep B?

FACT: Breastfeeding is safe, hepatitis B cannot be transmitted to the baby through breast milk. Vaccination of the new-born will reduce any risk of mother to child transmission. If you have cracked or bleeding nipples, then there is risk of hepatitis B transmission. However, if your baby has been vaccinated against hepatitis B, then they are protected from the low risk of transmission this way.

MYTH 11: All people with hepatitis have jaundice

FACT: Jaundice is a sign of liver problems but not all hepatitis viruses cause liver problems right away. About half of people living with hepatitis C have no symptoms at all until, sometimes decades down the line, when the virus has damaged their liver severely enough for jaundice or other symptoms to appear.

MYTH 12: I was told I am a ‘healthy carrier’ for hepatitis B, so I don’t need to worry

FACT: The term healthy carrier is misleading and should not be used. In the past, the term healthy carrier was used to refer to people living with chronic hepatitis B that had no symptoms. The truth is that people living with hepatitis B might look healthy, but they still live with the virus and therefore they should visit their doctor every 6-12 months for check-ups.

MYTH 13: People with any type of hepatitis shouldn't have sexual intercourse

FACT: People suffering from Hepatitis A, C and E can have sexual intercourse without any fear of transmission. People suffering from HBV should use barrier contraception (condom) while having intercourse with an unvaccinated person. However, if the partner is fully vaccinated and immunized against Hepatitis B, then there is no risk of sexual transmission. It is advisable that spouses of Hepatitis B patients be first screened for the virus and then vaccinated.

MYTH 14: Hepatitis and HIV are similar

FACT: Hepatitis types and HIV or human immunodeficiency virus are two different types of viruses. The only similarity is that Hepatitis B and C have similar modes of transmission to HIV. However, Hepatitis B and C affect the liver, while HIV virus infects many organs of the body. Further, HIV and hepatitis can occur at the same time and cause more severe illness. Hepatitis virus infection leads to rapid progression of liver cirrhosis in HIV-infected patients.