Other Vaccine Preventable Diseases You Should Know About


This information is here to be an educational guide only. If you are your child has any of the symptoms associated with these diseases you should contact your physician or hospital emergency room immediately.

Before you or your child takes any vaccine you should check with your health care provider on safety and recommendations.



Rubella or German Measles is an infectious disease and is caused by a highly contagious virus. If a pregnant woman gets rubella, during the first trimester, the baby may become very ill or may even die.

Symptoms of rubella include fever, headaches, muscle aches and a rash, first on the face and spreading to the rest of the body.

Fortunately, there is a vaccine against rubella which is the MMR vaccine. People who need to be vaccinated include; anyone born after 1957, college age adults, health care workers and international travelers. Rubella is easily diagnosed with a blood test and complications are rare. This means that a vaccination is highly desirable, since a woman who does not know she is pregnant, may very well contract Rubella with the result that her child could be born with heart defects, blindness and mental retardation.


Measles is a disease found around the world. The virus that causes the disease is spread by airborne infection and is one of the most contagious diseases.

Symptoms include cough, fever and a highly characteristic spotted rash which spreads from trunk to limbs. Measles has decreased by 99% since intense immunization programs began in North America in the 1960s and is now preventable by the MMR immunization. No specific treatment exists once you get measles. In children, it goes away usually after 2 weeks. However, for adults, symptoms can be much more complicated. These can include pneumonia and brain inflammation.


Whooping cough - or pertussis -

is an infection of the respiratory caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis (or B. pertussis). It's characterized by severe coughing spells that end in a "whooping" sound when the person breathes in. Before a vaccine was available, pertussis killed 5,000 to 10,000 people in the United States each year. Now, the pertussis vaccine has reduced the annual number of deaths to less than 30.

But in recent years, the number of cases has started to rise. By 2004, the number of whooping cough cases spiked past 25,000, the highest level it's been since the 1950s. It's mainly affected infants who are younger than 6 months old before they are adequately protected by their immunizations, and kids who are 11 to 18 years old whose immunity has faded.

Although whooping cough can occur at any age, it's most severe in unimmunized children and in infants under 1 year of age (early immunization can usually prevent this serious disease in babies). But more cases have been reported in teens and adults, because their immunity has faded since their original vaccination. That's why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently recommended that kids who are 11-18 years old get a booster shot that includes a pertussis vaccine, preferably when they are 11 to 12 years old.

Signs and Symptoms
The first symptoms of whooping cough are similar to those of a common cold:

bulletrunny nose
bulletmild cough
bulletlow-grade fever

After about 1 to 2 weeks, the dry, irritating cough evolves into coughing spells. During a coughing spell, which can last for more than a minute, the child may turn red or purple. At the end of a spell, the child may make a characteristic whooping sound when breathing in or may vomit. Between spells, the child usually feels well.

Although it's likely that infants and younger children who become infected with B. pertussis will develop the characteristic coughing episodes with their accompanying whoop, not everyone will. However, sometimes infants don't cough or whoop as older children do. They may look as if they're gasping for air with a reddened face and may actually stop breathing for a few seconds during particularly bad spells.

Adults and adolescents with whooping cough may have milder or atypical symptoms, such as a prolonged cough without the coughing spells or the whoop.

Pertussis is highly contagious. The bacteria spread from person to person through tiny drops of fluid from an infected person's nose or mouth. These may become airborne when the person sneezes, coughs, or laughs. Other people then can become infected by inhaling the drops or getting the drops on their hands and then touching their mouths or noses. Infected people are most contagious during the earliest stages of the illness up to about 2 weeks after the cough begins. Antibiotics shorten the period of contagiousness to 5 days following the start of antibiotic treatment.

Whooping cough can be prevented with the pertussis, vaccine which is part of the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis) immunization. DTaP immunizations are routinely given in five doses before a child's sixth birthday. To give additional protection in case immunity fades, the AAP now recommends that kids ages 11-18 get a booster shot of the new combination vaccine (called Tdap), ideally when they're 11 or 12 years old, instead of the Td booster routinely given at this age. As is the case with all immunization schedules, there are important exceptions and special circumstances. Your child's doctor will have the most current information.

Experts believe that up to 80% of nonimmunized family members will develop whooping cough if they live in the same house as someone who has the infection. For this reason, anyone who comes into close contact with a person who has pertussis should receive antibiotics to prevent spread of the disease. Young children who have not received all five doses of the vaccine may require a booster dose if exposed to an infected family member.

The incubation period (the time between infection and the onset of symptoms) for whooping cough is usually 7 to 10 days, but can be as long as 21 days.

Pertussis can cause prolonged symptoms. The child usually has 1 to 2 weeks of common cold symptoms first. This is followed by approximately 2 to 4 weeks of severe coughing, though the coughing spells can sometimes last even longer. The last stage consists of another several weeks of recovery with gradual resolution of symptoms. In some children, the recovery period may last for months.

If your child has whooping cough, it will be treated with antibiotics, usually for 2 weeks. Many experts believe that the medication is most effective in shortening the infection when it's given in the first stage of the illness, before coughing spells begin. But even if antibiotics are started later, they're still important because they can stop the spread of the pertussis infection to others. Ask your child's doctor whether preventive antibiotics or vaccine boosters for other family members are needed.

Some children with whooping cough need to be treated in a hospital. Infants and younger children are more likely to be hospitalized because they're at greater risk for complications such as pneumonia which occurs in about one in five children under the age of 1 year who have pertussis. Up to 75% of infants younger than 6 months old with whooping cough will receive hospital treatment. Infants and younger children are more likely to require hospitalization because they're at greater risk for complications such as pneumonia, ear infections, dehydration and  seizures In infants younger than 6 months of age, whooping cough can even be life-threatening.


Mumps is a disease caused by a virus that usually spreads through saliva and can infect many parts of the body, especially the parotid salivary glands. These glands, which produce saliva for the mouth, are found toward the back of each cheek, in the area between the ear and jaw. In cases of mumps, these glands typically swell and become painful.

The disease has been recognized for several centuries, and medical historians argue over whether the name "mumps" comes from an old word for "lump" or an old word for "mumble."

Mumps was common until the mumps vaccine was licensed in 1967. Before the vaccine, more than 200,000 cases occurred each year in the United States. Since then the number of cases has dropped to fewer than 1,000 a year, and epidemics have become fairly rare. As in the prevaccine era, most cases of mumps are still in children ages 5 to 14, but the proportion of young adults who become infected has been rising slowly over the last two decades. Mumps infections are uncommon in children younger than 1 year old.

After a case of mumps it is very unusual to have a second bout because one attack of mumps almost always gives lifelong protection against another. However, other infections can also cause swelling in the salivary glands, which might lead a parent to mistakenly think a child has had mumps more than once.

Signs and Symptoms
Cases of mumps may start with a fever up to 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius), as well as a headache and loss of appetite. The well-known hallmark of mumps is swelling and pain in the parotid glands, making the child look like a hamster with food in its cheeks. The glands usually become increasingly swollen and painful over a period of 1 to 3 days. The pain gets worse when the child swallows, talks, chews, or drinks acidic juices (like orange juice).

Both the left and right parotid glands may be affected, with one side swelling a few days before the other, or only one side may swell. In rare cases, mumps will attack other groups of salivary glands instead of the parotids. If this happens, swelling may be noticed under the tongue, under the jaw, or all the way down to the front of the chest.

Mumps can lead to inflammation and swelling of the brain and other organs, although this is not common. Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) are both rare complications of mumps. Symptoms appear in the first week after the parotid glands begin to swell and may include: high fever, stiff neck, headache, nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, convulsions, and other signs of brain involvement.

Mumps in adolescent and adult males may also result in the development of orchitis, an inflammation of the testicles. Usually one testicle becomes swollen and painful about 7 to 10 days after the parotids swell. This is accompanied by a high fever, shaking chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain that can sometimes be mistaken for appendicitis if the right testicle is affected. After 3 to 7 days, testicular pain and swelling subside, usually at about the same time that the fever passes. In some cases, both testicles are involved. Even with involvement of both testicles, sterility is only a rare complication of orchitis.

Additionally, mumps may affect the pancreas or, in females, the ovaries, causing pain and tenderness in parts of the abdomen.

In some cases, signs and symptoms of mumps are so mild that no one suspects a mumps infection. Doctors believe that about one in three people may have a mumps infection without symptoms.

The mumps virus is contagious and spreads in tiny drops of fluid from the mouth and nose of someone who is infected. It can be passed to others through sneezing, coughing, or even laughing. The virus can also spread to other people through direct contact, such as picking up tissues or using drinking glasses that have been used by the infected person.

People who have mumps are most contagious from 2 days before symptoms begin to 6 days after they end. The virus can also spread from people who are infected but have no symptoms.

Mumps can be prevented by vaccination. The vaccine can be given alone or as part of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) immunization, which is usually given to children at 12 to 15 months of age. A second dose of MMR is generally given at 4 to 6 years of age, but should be given no later than 11 to 12 years of age. As is the case with all immunization schedules, there are important exceptions and special circumstances. Your child's doctor will have the most current information.

The incubation period for mumps can be 12 to 25 days, but the average is 16 to 18 days.

Children usually recover from mumps in about 10 to 12 days. It takes about 1 week for the swelling to disappear in each parotid gland, but both glands don't usually swell at the same time.


Chickenpox is a viral infection that causes a red, itchy rash on the skin. The chickenpox rash usually appears first on the abdomen or back and face, and then spreads to almost everywhere else on the body, including the scalp, mouth, nose, ears, and genitals.

The rash begins as multiple small, red bumps that look like pimples or insect bites. They develop into thin-walled blisters filled with clear fluid, which then becomes cloudy. The blister wall breaks, leaving open sores, which finally crust over to become dry, brown scabs. One of the most characteristic features of the chickenpox rash is that all stages of the lesions can be present at the same time.

Chickenpox blisters are about a quarter to half an inch wide, have a reddish base, and appear in bouts over 2 to 4 days. Some children have only a few blisters, whereas others have several hundred. The rash may be more extensive or severe in kids who have skin disorders such as eczema.

Some children have a fever , abdominal pain, or a vague sick feeling a day or 2 before the rash appears. These symptoms may last for a few days, and fever stays in the range of 100 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 to 38.8 degrees Celsius), although it may occasionally be higher. Younger children often have milder symptoms and fewer blisters than older children or adults.

Normally, chickenpox is a mild illness, but certain groups of people are more likely to have a more severe illness that could lead to complications. These include infants, adolescents, adults, and people with weak immune systems from either illnesses or from medications such as long-term steroid use. The most common complication of severe chickenpox illness in these groups of people is a bacterial infection that can involve many sites of the body including the skin around the blisters, bones, lungs, joints, and the blood. Other serious complications are due to the virus itself infecting the organs and include viral pneumonia , bleeding problems, and inflammation of the brain (encephalitis ).

Anyone who has had chickenpox as a child is at risk for a complication later in life called shingles. After an infection, some of the varicella-zoster virus may remain inactive in nerve cells near the spinal cord. Many years later, the virus can reactivate and resurface as shingles. When it reactivates, it affects the nerve to the skin. Symptoms, such as a tingling feeling, itching, or pain followed by a rash with red bumps and blisters appear only in the area of the skin that the nerve goes to.

The contagious period for chickenpox begins about 2 days before the rash appears and lasts until all the blisters are crusted over. A child with chickenpox should be kept out of school until all of the blisters have dried, which is usually about 1 week, but you don't have to wait until all the scabs fall off to let your child get back to a normal schedule.

Pregnant women, as well as people with diseases or problems with their immune system, should not be near a person with chickenpox. If a pregnant woman who hasn't had chickenpox in the past contracts it (especially before 20 weeks), the fetus is at risk for birth defects. If she develops chickenpox 5 days before to 2 days after delivery, the newborn is at risk for life-threatening varicella (the mother has transferred the virus to the baby, but she hasn't had time to produce and transfer antibodies, which fight off infection, to the baby before it's born).

If the mother had chickenpox in the past (before the pregnancy or any time more than a week before delivery), then the fetus receives antibodies through the placenta. That means the mom's immunity gets passed on to the baby through the placenta and breast milk, so it would be unlikely for the infant to get sick. But antibodies are not fail-safe; there is no 100% guarantee that a baby won't get the infection - it's just less likely. Or, the infant might have the disease, but it won't be as severe. It's also important for pregnant women to realize that they're at increased risk of chickenpox complications if they catch it for the first time while pregnant.

People who haven't had chickenpox can also catch it from someone with shingles, but they cannot catch shingles itself. Why can't a person catch shingles from someone else? It's because shingles can only develop from a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus in a person who has previously had chickenpox.

Since 1995, a varicella vaccine has been given to children older than 12 months, as well as adults. The vaccine is about 70% to 85% effective at preventing mild infection, and more than 95% effective in preventing moderate or severe disease. People who do develop chickenpox after vaccination have much milder symptoms with fewer skin blisters and a fast recovery.

The vaccine is recommended to be routinely given to children at 12 to 18 months of age. Older children, adolescents, and adults who haven't had chickenpox should also be immunized. Whereas children 12 months to 12 years receive a single vaccine dose, adolescents and adults require two vaccine doses a minimum of 4 weeks apart. Considering that the vaccine could prevent illness and even deaths, not enough children are being vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As is the case with all immunization schedules, there are important exceptions and special circumstances. Your child's doctor will have the most current information.

There's also a second type of prevention for certain people who are at risk for severe disease and who've already been exposed to the infection. A ready-made form of immune protection called varicella-zoster immune globulin (VZIG) is given to newborns whose mothers had chickenpox at the time of delivery; high-risk patients (such as those with leukemia or immune deficiencies); and kids receiving drugs that suppress the immune system.

Healthy children who have had chickenpox do not need the vaccine - they usually have lifelong protection against the illness. However, 10% to 20% of people who've had chickenpox develop shingles later in life.

The incubation period for chickenpox is 10 to 21 days after exposure; most cases appear in 14 to 17 days. For example, if one child in a family breaks out with chickenpox picked up at school, siblings probably will show symptoms about 2 weeks later.

Chickenpox usually lasts 7 to 10 days in children, but typically lasts longer in adults.


Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is a serious but preventable disease that affects the body's muscles and nerves. It typically arises from a skin wound that becomes contaminated by a bacterium called  Clostridium tetani, which is often found in soil.

Once the bacteria are in the body, they produce a neurotoxin (a protein that acts as a poison to the body's nervous system) known as tetanospasmin that causes muscle spasms. The toxin first affects nerves controlling the muscles near the wound. It can also travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream and lymph system. As it circulates more widely, the toxin interferes with the normal activity of nerves throughout the body, leading to generalized muscle spasms. Without treatment, tetanus can be fatal.

In the United States, most cases of tetanus follow a cut or deep puncture injury, such as a wound caused by stepping on a nail. Sometimes the injury is so small that it is never seen by a doctor. Injuries that involve dead skin (such as burns, frost bite, gangrene, or crush injuries) are more likely to cause tetanus. Wounds contaminated with soil, saliva, or feces - especially if not properly cleaned - and skin punctures from nonsterile needles (such as with drug use or self-performed tattooing or body piercing) are also at increased risk.

Another form of tetanus, neonatal tetanus, occurs in newborns who are delivered in unsanitary conditions, especially if the umbilical cord stump becomes contaminated. Prior to immunizations, neonatal tetanus was much more common in the United States. Now, routine immunizations for tetanus produce antibodies that mothers pass to their unborn babies. These maternal antibodies and sanitary cord-care techniques have made newborn tetanus very rare in developed countries.

In fact, tetanus in general is rare in the United States and other nations with tetanus vaccination programs - fewer than 50 cases of tetanus have been reported each year in the United States since 1995. However, many developing countries have no effective prevention and immunization programs against tetanus, so the disease is much more common there.

Signs and Symptoms
Tetanus often begins with muscle spasms in the jaw (called trismus), accompanied by difficulty swallowing and stiffness or pain in the muscles of the neck, shoulders, or back. These spasms can spread to the muscles of the abdomen, upper arms, and thighs.

Neonatal tetanus causes the same symptoms in newborns.

Tetanus cannot be spread from person to person.

There are two important components of tetanus prevention: tetanus immunization (receiving routine tetanus vaccinations) and what's known as post-exposure tetanus prophylaxis (receiving a shot after an injury occurs).

For children, tetanus immunization is part of the DTaP (ditheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis ) vaccinations. Children typically receive a series of four doses of DTaP vaccine before 2 years of age, followed by a booster dose at 4 to 6 years of age. After that, a tetanus and diphtheria booster (Td) is recommended at 11 to 12 years of age, and then every 10 years through adulthood. As is the case with all immunization schedules, there are important exceptions and special circumstances. Your child's doctor will have the most current information.

Post-exposure tetanus prophylaxis also involves getting tetanus shots, but after an injury occurs. Which shots are given will depend on the number of years since the patient's last booster, the total number of tetanus vaccinations the patient has received, and the nature of the wound. The doctor may recommend a tetanus booster (Td or DTaP, depending on the patient's age) and/or an injection of tetanus immune globulin (TIG) to neutralize any toxin released by the bacteria.

Neonatal tetanus can be prevented by making sure that all pregnant have had their tetanus immunizations and by delivering babies in sanitary conditions. If you are pregnant, discuss your immunization record with your obstetrician well before your due date.

The incubation period for tetanus is usually 2 to 14 days, with most symptoms beginning around the seventh day. In neonatal tetanus, symptoms start within the first 2 weeks of life.

Tetanus, although rare, is a serious illness. When the condition is diagnosed and treated early, however, recovery is possible. It usually takes several weeks to recover from tetanus.



is a common disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which is part of the herpesvirus family. Although many people associate the word herpes with genital herpes, the herpesvirus family is made up of nearly 100 kinds of viruses, eight of which cause disease in humans. Examples of different herpesviruses are herpes simplex virus (which causes cold sores and genital herpes infections), Epstein-Barr virus (which causes infectious mononucleosis), and varicella-zoster virus (which causes chickenpox and shingles). Varicella-zoster virus spreads in the air through coughs or sneezes or through contact with fluid from inside the chickenpox blisters.

Chickenpox, which occurs most often in the late winter and early spring, is very contagious - if exposed to an infected family member, about 80% to 90% of those in a household who haven't had chickenpox will get it. However, immunization of children with the chickenpox vaccine that's now available is expected to decrease cases of the disease dramatically over the next few years.

Although it's more common in kids under the age of 15, anyone can get chickenpox. A person usually has only one episode of chickenpox in his or her lifetime. But the virus that causes chickenpox can lie dormant within the body and can cause a different type of skin eruption later in life called shingles, also referred to as herpes-zoster.



commonly known as "the flu," is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract. Although the flu affects both sexes and all age groups, kids tend to get it more often than adults. The illness even has its own season - from November to April, with most cases occurring between late December and early March.

Signs and Symptoms
The flu is often confused with the common cold  but flu symptoms tend to develop quickly (usually 1 to 4 days after a person is exposed to the flu virus) and are usually more severe than the typical sneezing and stuffiness of a cold .

Symptoms of the flu may include:

bulletmuscle aches
bulletloss of appetite
bulletsore throat
bulletrunny nose
bulletnausea or vomiting
bulletear infection

Infants with the flu may simply seem sick all of a sudden or "just don't look right." The flu that people get is not the same strain of virus as the avian flu .

After 5 days, fever and other symptoms have usually disappeared, but a cough and weakness may continue. All symptoms are usually gone within a week or two. However, it's important to treat the flu seriously, because it can lead to pneumonia  and other life-threatening complications, particularly in infants, senior citizens, and people with long-term health problems.

Spread by virus-infected droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air, the flu is contagious. People infected with the flu are contagious as long as they show symptoms (most of the time that means about 1 week for adults, but for children it can mean up to 2 weeks).

The flu usually occurs in small outbreaks, but epidemics tend to occur every few years. Epidemics (when the illness spreads rapidly and affects many people in an area at the same time) peak within 2 or 3 weeks after the first cases occur and then begin to decrease.

About the Flu Vaccine
Usually offered between September and mid-November (although it may be given at other times of the year), the flu vaccine reduces the average person's chances of catching the flu by up to 80% during the season. But because the flu vaccine prevents infection with only a few of the viruses that can cause flu-like symptoms, getting the vaccine isn't a guarantee that you and your family won't get sick during the flu season. But even if someone who's gotten the shot gets the flu, symptoms will usually be fewer and milder.

Given as one injection in the upper arm, the flu shot contains killed flu viruses that will not cause your child to get the flu, but will cause your child's body to fight off infection by the live flu virus. Getting a shot of the killed virus causes a person to become protected against that particular type of live flu virus if he or she comes into contact with it.

Even if you or your child may have gotten the vaccine last year, that won't protect you from getting the flu this year, because the protection wears off and flu viruses constantly change. That's why the vaccine is updated each year to include the most current strains of the virus. This year, it's also being recommended for people who have been displaced by hurricanes and are living in crowded group settings.

For children under 9 who are getting a flu shot for the first time, it's given in two separate shots 1 month apart. It can take up to 1 or 2 weeks after the shot for the body to build up protection to the flu.

Getting the shot before the flu season is in full-force gives the body a chance to build up immunity to, or protection from, the virus. Although you can get a flu shot well into flu season, it's best to try to get it earlier rather than later , if your child's doctor thinks it's necessary. However, even as late as January, there are still 2 or 3 months left in the flu season, which means it's still a good idea to get protection.

In times when the vaccine is in short supply, certain people need it more than others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sometimes recommends that only certain high-risk groups be vaccinated when flu shot supplies are limited. In 2005, the CDC recommended that kids in high-risk groups be vaccinated first (before Oct. 24), with all others wanting flu shots receiving them after that. Although there is technically not a shortage of the vaccine, delays in distribution have made it temporarily unavailable in some areas - talk with your child's doctor about vaccine availability.

So who, exactly, is considered high risk? The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the CDC recommend that these groups, who are at increased risk of flu-related complications, be given the flu shot:

bulletchildren 6 to 23 months old
bulletanyone 65 and up
bulletwomen who will be pregnant during the flu season
bulletanyone who lives or works with infants under 6 months old
bulletresidents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes
bulletany adult or child with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma
bullethealth-care personnel who have direct contact with patients
bulletchildren - from 6 months to 18 years - on long-term aspirin therapy
bulletout-of-home caregivers and household contacts of anyone in any of the high-risk groups

People who should not get the flu shot include:

bulletinfants under 6 months old
bulletanyone who's severely allergic to eggs and egg products - because the ingredients for flu shots are actually grown inside eggs. If your child is allergic to eggs or egg products, let your child's doctor know before he or she gets a flu shot.
bulletanyone who's ever had a severe reaction to a flu vaccination
bulletanyone who has Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare medical condition that affects the immune system and nerves
bulletanyone who's sick with a fever

Another non-shot option called the nasal mist vaccine came on the market in 2003 and is now approved for use in 5- to 49-year-olds. But this nasal mist isn't for everyone, and can't be used on high-risk children and adults. Also, because the nasal spray flu vaccine is made from live viruses, it may cause mild flu-like symptoms, including runny nose, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, and fever. Check with your child's doctor to see if your child can - or should - get this type of flu vaccine.

Preventing the Flu From Spreading
Although there's no guaranteed way - including the vaccine - to prevent anyone from getting the flu, the most simple step you can take is to avoid large crowds. Since it's often nearly impossible to keep kids cooped up, here are some other things you and your family can do to help prevent the spread of infections like the flu:

bulletWash your hands thoroughly and frequently.
bulletNever pick up used tissues.
bulletNever share cups and eating utensils until you're better.
bulletStay home from work or school when you're sick with the flu.
bulletCover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.


Hepatitis A&B

What do drugs, alcohol, unprotected sex, tattoos, and body piercings have in common? They're all things your parents probably lecture you about avoiding, but there's another connection as well - they can all lead to a liver condition called hepatitis.

The liver is one of the body's powerhouses. It helps process nutrients and metabolizes medication. The liver also helps clear the body of toxic waste products.

The word hepatitis (pronounced: heh-puh-tie-tus) means an inflammation of the liver, and it can be caused by one of many things - including a viral or bacterial infection, liver injury caused by a toxin (poison), and even an attack on the liver by the body's own immune system.

Although there are several forms of hepatitis, the condition is usually caused by one of three viruses: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C virus. The hepatitis virus is a mutating virus, which means that it changes over time and can be difficult for the body to fight. In some cases, hepatitis B or C can destroy the liver. The patient then will need a liver transplant to survive, which is not always available or successful.

Hepatitis A
The hepatitis A virus is transmitted through the feces (poop) of infected individuals. People usually get hepatitis A by eating food or drinking water that's been contaminated with feces. Although that sounds disgusting, hepatitis A is actually considered to be the least destructive of the hepatitis viruses. That's because, unlike the other types, it rarely leads to permanent liver damage. Within a few weeks, the symptoms will have gone away on their own and the hepatitis A virus will no longer be in your system. Once a person has recovered from a hepatitis A infection, that person has immunity to the virus, meaning he or she will probably never get it again.

Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is a more serious infection. It may lead to a condition called cirrhosis (permanent scarring of the liver) or liver cancer, both of which cause severe illness and even death. Hepatitis B is transmitted from person to person through blood or other body fluids.

In the United States, the most common way people get infected with hepatitis B is through unprotected sex with a person who has the disease. People who shoot drugs also are at risk of becoming infected because it's likely that the needles they use will not have been sterilized. In fact, about one in every 20 people living in the United States will become infected with the hepatitis B virus - and the risk of infection is greater for people who have unprotected sex or inject drugs.

That's scary stuff given that, as yet, there's no effective cure for hepatitis B. In most cases, a teen who gets hepatitis B will recover from the disease and may develop a natural immunity to future hepatitis B infections. But some people will have the condition forever. Medications can help some people with hepatitis B get rid of the virus.

Hepatitis C (not vaccine preventable at this time)
Like hepatitis B, hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. Hepatitis C is transmitted from person to person through blood or other body fluids.

Hepatitis C is the most serious type of hepatitis - it's now one of the most common reasons for liver transplants in adults. Every year, thousands of people in the United States die from the virus. And there's no cure and no vaccine.

An estimated 3.9 million Americans are currently infected with the virus. The most common way people become infected is through sharing drug implements such as needles and straws. People also get hepatitis C after having unprotected sex with an infected partner. Before the 1980s, many people got hepatitis C through blood transfusions, but better blood screening and handling procedures now mean that this rarely happens.

The medications currently used to treat hepatitis C are effective in controlling the disease in some people. However, hepatitis C treatments are not very easy, because they require weekly injections for 6 to 12 months, as well as taking other medications by mouth.




For more information on these and other diseases or information in Spanish check out


Center for Disease Control

World Health Organization

Kids Health