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A hepatitis carrier is a person who tests positive for a hepatitis virus for more than six months, indicating the presence of chronic infection. Carriers do not necessarily develop symptoms and may never get sick, but they can pass the virus on to other people, usually in close personal contact. A patient concerned about the possibility of carrying hepatitis can ask for a blood test to check for presence of the virus. A doctor may also request liver function tests to see if the virus is causing active liver irritation.
There are a number of hepatitis viruses, each identified with a letter, like hepatitis A. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are the usual causes for concern with hepatitis carriers, as these viruses can lurk in the body for decades without causing symptoms, while still being shed in the patient's body fluids. A hepatitis carrier can be a risk to health care providers in needlestick injuries and surgeries, and may also pass on the virus during close personal contact, especially when sharing needles or engaging in other blood-to-blood contact.
The hepatitis carrier may be perfectly healthy. In other cases, carriers eventually develop symptoms of hepatitis including fatigue, nausea, and jaundice. The liver will become irritated and inflamed, causing abdominal pain. If a treatment plan cannot control the inflammation, the liver damage may become so severe that the patient needs a liver transplant. Some people may recover from bouts of hepatitis to become carriers, returning to an asymptomatic infection after the acute crisis is over.
Many health care workers are exposed to hepatitis on the job and can become carriers. A health care worker may need to take regular tests to check for hepatitis infection. Being a hepatitis carrier does not bar people from health care work, but they need to take some steps to protect patients and colleagues in the event of any incident involving shared or spilled body fluids.
During pregnancy, a doctor will advise a patient who has not been tested for hepatitis to consider getting a blood test. There are concerns about passing the virus during labor and delivery, and knowing ahead of time will allow the doctor to take some precautionary measures to reduce this risk. Hepatitis can be spread in a variety of ways and may be acquired at any age. Thus, the test recommendation to see if the patient is a hepatitis carrier is not meant to imply anything about the lifestyle of the patient, but is used as a precautionary measure.