Hepatitis have various types. It refers to the inflammation of the liver. This inflammation can go on ahead to damage the liver. In most cases, it is as a result of viral infection (viral hepatitis), but other things may also be responsible for the liver inflammation. For instance, consuming alcohol, some drugs, or toxins from chemicals can cause inflammation of the liver. Sometimes, your body can produce certain antibodies on its own which can start fighting your liver tissue causing inflammation – this is called an autoimmune hepatitis.
There are 5 different types of hepatitis viruses that can infect the liver. Each one has its peculiarity and some appear to be more destructive than others. Generally, hepatitis is treatable, although there is no medication that we can say cures the disease. More importantly, you can get vaccinated against some of the types of hepatitis to protect yourself and your family members.
Types of Hepatitis
There are 5 types of hepatitis (A,B,C,D and E). They are caused by different viruses and have some distinct characteristics from one another.
- Hepatitis A : This type is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). You can get this by ingesting water or food contaminated by the virus. Usually, infection with hepatitis A is mild and resolves on its own without need of any medication. There is also a vaccine that can protect against hepatitis A infection.
- Hepatitis B : It is caused by infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV). The mode of transmission is through contact with infected blood, semen or other body fluids. In addition, infected pregnant mothers can transfer the virus to the fetus during pregnancy, childbirth or breast feeding. Hepatitis B can be acute or chronic. There are also vaccines that can protect against hepatitis A virus.
- Hepatitis C : This is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It has a similar mode of transmission to that of hepatitis B, but seems to be spread more through contact with infected blood than through sexual contact. Hepatitis C infection can be chronic and there is no vaccination against the virus up till date.
- Hepatitis D : The hepatitis D virus (HDV) is responsible for this type. Hepatitis D does not occur as a stand-alone infection, rather it occurs only in those who are already infected with hepatitis B. This usually results in a severer disease and worsens the outcome. Anyone vaccinated against hepatitis B is also protected against hepatitis D.
- Hepatitis E : It is caused by infection with hepatitis E virus (HEV). This is water borne and therefore can be contracted by drinking water contaminated with the virus. There is no vaccination against this type of hepatitis.
General Signs and Symptoms
When it comes to viral hepatitis, the infection can either be acute (lasting below 6 months) or chronic (lasting for longer period up to a life-time). Chronic hepatitis can result in liver fibrosis (scarring of liver tissue), cirrhosis and liver cancer. Symptoms of hepatitis may include :
- Loss of Appetite.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Yellow eyes or skin (Jaundice).
- Weight loss.
- Abdominal pain.
- Joint pains.
- Dark coloured urine.
- pale stools.
It is very important that you see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. The doctor can confirm whether the symptoms are due to hepatitis infection or another different medical condition.
Your doctor will ask you a couple of questions to try finding out whether you have been exposed to any of the viruses that can cause hepatitis. He will also inspect your skin and eyes for signs of jaundice and examine your abdomen, especially around your liver.
The definite diagnosis for hepatitis is however through a screening test for the virus in your blood. Your blood sample will be collected and taken to the lab for confirmation of the presence of any hepatitis virus.
When the test comes back negative, he may recommend you get vaccinated against the immunisable hepatitis types (if you haven’t had that done already). But if the the result turns out positive, you may be asked to do other tests that will show the extent of the infection and how it is affecting the liver. A viral load test will show how much the virus is replicating itself in your body and a liver function test will show how much the liver is getting affected.
You may be asked to do an abdominal ultrasound scan, CT-scan and/or liver biopsy to further ascertain the extent of liver damage.
Treatment and prevention
The treatment of hepatitis is dependent on the diagnosis and type of the hepatitis infection. All the tests results will help your doctor decide whether to place you on medication or not. If there is no active damaging to the liver, your doctor may decide to just ask you to rest, avoid anything that could put your liver at risk like alcohol, and keep monitoring your liver function test and viral load.
Getting vaccinated against the immunisable hepatitis for new born babies, children, adults and those at high risk is the best preventive measure you can take. In addition :
- Practice good hygiene of food and water to protect against hepatitis A and E, especially if travelling to endemic countries.
- Avoid multiple sexual partners.
- Practice safe sex with condoms if you can’t stick to one partner.
- Refuse accepting blood for transfusion that haven’t been screened.
- Don’t share razor, toothbrush, or syringes.
- Avoid touching spilled blood.
- Do not inject illegal drugs. Use new syringes if you have too.
- Use sterilized instruments for acupuncture or drawing tattoos.
- Stay away from alcohol and other liver toxic chemicals.
- WHO – what is hepatitis
- Healthline – hepatitis
- MedicalNewsToday – viral hepatitis
- Cleaveland Clinic – hepatitis