Hepatitis and Infectious Diseases
What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis, commonly misspelled hepatitis, is the inflammation of the liver caused by a number of viral infections, dubbed by the letters, A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis spreads generally through unhygienic living conditions, and effects the third world to a large extent. There are over 250 million carriers of hepatitis C worldwide and around 400 million who have chronic hepatitis B. These numbers do not include the hundreds of millions, who have had their symptoms clear up, or those previously or currently suffering from Hepatitis A, D, E, or more rare strains.
Hepatitis has been known to exist for millennia although it was first classified a couple hundred years ago, most notably marked by the yellowing of the skin, called jaundice. It was not only 1963 that the Hepatitis B virus was named, and Hepatitis A followed ten years later. Later forms of hepatitis identified include Hepatitis C in 1989 and Hepatitis E in 1990, with more rare forms still being classified.
The liver is the third largest organ after the skin and the brain, and it performs over a hundred and forty functions on a daily basis that are currently known, such as producing digestive fluids such as bile, helping blood to clot, removing poisons such as alcohol from the body, muscle regeneration, and so much more. Having an infected liver or cirrhosis, which is a serious infection of the liver, can be deadly and at the very least impair your daily function in more ways than you think.
Each form of hepatitis has different forms of severity and mortality rates depending upon age. While forms like Hepatitis A are relatively harmless, clear up easily, and cannot turn chronic, forms such as Hepatitis B or C form a very serious health risk in their chronic states.
Many people who get hepatitis B or C have no recognizable signs or symptoms. You may feel and appear perfectly healthy, yet still, be infected with the disease and infect others. The most common symptom of hepatitis is tiredness or fatigue. Some people experience flu-like symptoms, such as loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, fever, weakness, tiredness, and mild stomach pain. The least common symptoms are dark urine and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice). The only way these viruses can be positively identified is through blood tests.
Different hepatitis viruses are spread in different ways, as explained in How Hepatitis Is Spread. If you suspect that you have hepatitis or think you have been in contact with an infected person or a contaminated object, consult your health care professional as soon as possible.
Consequences of Hepatitis
Chronic hepatitis B and C are the most serious forms of hepatitis. (A disease is considered “chronic” if it lasts longer than 6 months.) Both forms of hepatitis pose risks of long-term medical complications, especially if they go untreated.
People with chronic hepatitis B and C are at increased risk of permanent liver damage or liver cancer. A small proportion of people with chronic hepatitis will develop liver damage that is serious enough to require liver transplantation.
Hepatitis viruses, like all viruses, are tiny invaders (called “microorganisms”) that enter cells, interfere with the cells’ normal activities, and use the cells to make more virus.
Not all viruses can enter all cells. The hepatitis viruses, for example, mainly infect liver cells.
Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics. Because the virus lives in the cell and uses it to reproduce more virus, most drugs that kill the virus will harm the cell, too.
While it has been difficult to find treatments for viruses, there are vaccines, or preventive drugs, that protect against infection by some viral diseases, such as hepatitis B, the flu, and polio. See Treatment for Hepatitis to learn about specific drugs for hepatitis.
Hepatitis A, caused by the hepatitis A virus, is the most common type of viral hepatitis. You can get this commonly in countries where sanitation and sewage disposal are poor.
Hepatitis A is usually caught by putting something in your mouth that has been contaminated with the feces of someone with hepatitis A.
It is usually short-term (acute) infection, and symptoms will pass within three months. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A other than using medication, such as the painkiller ibuprofen, to relieve symptoms.
Vaccination can protect you against hepatitis A. Vaccination is recommended if you are traveling to any country where the hepatitis virus is common, such as the Indian subcontinent, Africa, Central and South America, the Far East and eastern Europe.
Hepatitis B (The most common one)
Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus which is found in blood and body fluids like semen and vaginal fluids, so it can be spread during unprotected sex or by sharing needles to inject drugs.
People infected with hepatitis B can fight off the virus and gain full recovery from the infection within a few months. The infection can be bothersome to live with but usually causes no lasting harm.
However, a small minority of people develop chronic hepatitis B; this is a long-term infection.
Vaccination is possible for hepatitis B, which is advised for people in high-risk groups, such as injecting drug users.
Hepatitis C is the most popular type of viral hepatitis in the United States.
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus. This can be found in the blood and, to a much lesser extent, the saliva and semen or vaginal fluid of an infected person. It is particularly concentrated in the blood, so it is usually transmitted through blood-to-blood contact.
In the US, it’s most commonly spread through sharing needles to inject drugs, which account for 9 out of 10 cases.
Hepatitis C often causes no noticeable symptoms or symptoms that are mistaken for the flu, so many people are unaware they are infected.
Around one in four people will fight off the infection and will be free of the virus. In the remaining three out of four people, the virus will stay in their body for many years. This is known as chronic hepatitis C.
Chronic hepatitis C can be treated by taking antiviral medications, although there can be unpleasant side effects.
Sadly There is currently no vaccination for hepatitis C.
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over the course of many years can damage the liver, leading to hepatitis. This type of hepatitis is known as alcoholic hepatitis.
It is estimated that as many as one in four moderate to heavy drinkers has some degree of alcoholic hepatitis.
The condition does not usually cause any symptoms and is often detected with a blood test.
If a person with alcoholic hepatitis continues to drink alcohol, there is a real risk that they will go on to develop cirrhosis and possibly liver failure.
Read more about alcoholic liver diseases and the health risks associated with alcohol.
Rare types of hepatitis:
Hepatitis D, caused by the hepatitis D virus, is only present in people already infected with hepatitis B (it needs the presence of the hepatitis B virus to be able to survive in your body). Infection rates in the US are low.
Hepatitis E, caused by the hepatitis E virus, is very rare in the US and is generally a mild and short-term infection. It is caught by putting something in your mouth that has been contaminated with the feces of someone with hepatitis E. Person-to-person transmission is rare.
Autoimmune hepatitis is a very rare cause of chronic (long-term) hepatitis. The white blood cells attack the liver, causing chronic inflammation and damage. This can lead to more serious problems, such as liver failure. The reason for this reaction is unknown.
Only one in 300,000 cases of autoimmune hepatitis is diagnosed in the US every year. About 7 in 10 cases are in women, usually between the ages of 15 and 40. However, in older age groups, men tend to be affected more than women.
Symptoms include tiredness, pains in your abdomen, joint aches, jaundice (yellow tinge to your skin and whites of your eyes) and cirrhosis. See your GP immediately if you show any of these symptoms so that tests can be carried out for an early diagnosis.
Treatment for autoimmune hepatitis involves medicines that help suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation. Steroid medication (prednisolone) can gradually reduce your swelling over several weeks, and can then be used to control your symptoms.