No specific therapy is known to be effective against hepatitis A. Treatment generally consists of bed rest and adequate fluid intake to prevent dehydration. The disease generally runs its course in a few weeks, although complete recovery can take several months in cases of severe infection. Infection with hepatitis B is typically treated in the same manner as hepatitis A, and it also generally runs its course in a few weeks. However, sometimes hepatitis B infections become chronic and persist for more than 6 months. An estimated 800,000 to 1.4 million Americans have a chronic hepatitis B infection (Centers for Disease Control, 2009h). These chronic infections can be treated with several antiviral drugs (Quan, 2008; Shamliyan et al., 2009).
Hepatitis C presents a more serious treatment problem. For most of the estimated 5 million Americans who have a hepatitis C infection, the disease is relatively mild, remains stable over several decades, and does not significantly erode the person’s health (Centers for Disease Control, 2009h; Edlin, 2011). However, for about one quarter of those who develop the progressive form of the disease, active treatment is essential to avert severe complications and/or death (Centers for Disease Control, 2009h). By 2007 hepatitis C had superseded AIDS as a cause of death in the United States (Ly et al., 2012). Hepatitis C causes half of all liver cancers and is the most prevalent reason for liver transplants in the United States (Chung, 2012; Schlutter, 2011). A combination therapy with the antiviral drugs peglated interferon and ribavirin has been shown to be relatively effective in controlling some cases of chronic hepatitis C infection (Chung, 2008; Rodriguez-Torres et al.,
2009) . Recent research indicates that adding either of the drugs teleprevir or boceprevir to the peglated interferon/ribavirin protocol may significantly reduce the time necessary to successfully treat a chronic hepatitis C infection (Alter & Liang, 2012; Liu et al., 2012).
An effective and safe vaccine to prevent hepatitis B infection has been available since 1982, and in 1995 the U. S. Food and Drug Administration approved an effective and safe hepatitis A vaccine. Since the development and implementation of vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, the incidence of these infections in the United States has fallen dramatically to historic lows (Centers for Disease Control, 2010e; Ward, 2008). Unfortunately, no effective vaccine for hepatitis C exists, although efforts are under way to develop this prevention tool (Eisenstein, 2011).