What is viral Hepatitis?
The term ‘hepatitis’ simply means ‘inflamed liver.’ Hepatitis can be caused by many different things including viral infections, parasites, bacteria, chemicals, auto-immunity, drugs or alcohol. Of these, viral infection is the most common cause of chronic (long-term) hepatitis.
Doctors are currently aware of five types of viral hepatitis, called hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis F and G also exist, although there is still some debate over whether these types are actually viral infections.
Hepatitis A, sometimes called hep A or HAV, is a virus carried in the blood which infects and damages the liver. A virus is a tiny particle that needs to infect and control the cells of your body in order to live and reproduce. You can prevent hepatitis A by having a vaccination that will protect you from being infected for up to 10 years. Find out more types of hepatitis and symptoms.
Where is hepatitis A common?
Hepatitis A is common in places where water supplies and sewage disposal are of a poor standard, and where personal and food hygiene standards are poor. Southern and Eastern Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle and Far East are high-risk areas.
How is hepatitis A passed on?
Hepatitis A is passed from person to person by eating food or drinking water contaminated (infected) with the virus. The illness can spread easily within families and where people live closely together. The virus is passed out in the bowel motions of an infected person, which is why it is important to wash your hands after going to the toilet. Drinking water can be contaminated with the virus.
Fruit, vegetables and uncooked food washed in contaminated water can cause infection, especially in hot countries. Shellfish can be infected if it comes from sea water contaminated with sewage. Cooked food is safe, but can be contaminated if it has been handled by someone with the virus.
The true number of people affected with hepatitis A is unknown as people who only have mild symptoms may not go to a doctor.
What is Chronic Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is one of the most common viral infections in the world. Some 400 million people have chronic hepatitis B and, as a result, have a high risk of developing cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure and liver cancer.
One million people die each year due to hepatitis B, making it the 10th leading cause of death worldwide.
Symptoms occur in about 70 per cent of adults who have hepatitis B. It may take several months after a person has been infected for symptoms to appear, which include:
- Yellowing of skin or eyes (jaundice)
- Loss of appetite or nausea
- Darkening of urine
- Aching joints
By preventing infection with hep B, the vaccine can prevent liver cancer caused by hepatitis B. Populations who should undergo hepatitis B vaccination include people with a high risk of exposure through their work (medical and dental professions, the police force, first-aid workers), dialysis patients, all patients with other chronic liver diseases (e.g. chronic hepatitis C), people living in close contact with people with chronic hepatitis B, and babies born to infected mothers.
What is Chronic Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a virus that affects more than 180 million people worldwide. People infected with the virus typically experience liver damage over 20-30 years, which can lead to liver scarring, and potentially, to liver cancer or liver failure.
People with hepatitis C may experience non-specific symptoms including:
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle and joint pains
- Anxiety / depression
- Mild tenderness in upper right area of the abdomen
Unfortunately, many people with chronic hepatitis C may not experience any symptoms at all and so anyone who feels that they may have been exposed to the virus should get tested.
The good news is that hepatitis B and C can be treated in many people. Seek advice from your doctor and ask about the risk factors for both hepatitis B and C. The worst situation is to be diagnosed when the disease has progressed too far to be treated.
While there is no vaccine for hepatitis C (HCV), there are effective treatments available. And some people can even be cured of the disease. The usual treatment for hepatitis C is pegylated interferon plus ribavirin. It is the most advanced, most successful course of action that medical science has yet found for fighting hepatitis C. For a significant percentage of patients, pegylated interferon works—clearing the virus from their blood and/or making a real difference in their liver health. Combination therapy using pegylated interferon and ribavirin can render the virus undetectable in up to 5 out of 10 persons with genotype 1 and in up to 8 out of 10 persons with genotypes 2 and 3.
Hepatitis D, sometimes called hep D or HDV, is a virus carried in the blood which infects and damages the liver. A virus is a tiny particle that needs to infect and control the cells of your body in order to live and reproduce.
Hepatitis D requires the presence of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) to reproduction. You can acquire hepatitis D infection at the same time as you are infected with hepatitis B; this is called co-infection. Infection may also occur if you already have chronic hepatitis B and it has not cleared from your body; this is called super-infection. The combination of hepatitis D and hepatitis B can be more serious than hepatitis B alone and is more likely to cause chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis.
Where is hepatitis D common?
It is seen mainly in Central Africa, the Middle East and central South America. Low rates of infection are present in most of Europe, the United States and Australia.
How is hepatitis D spread?
It is spread through anyone coming into contact with infected blood, contaminated needles or by having unprotected sex with a hepatitis D infected person. The risk factors are similar to those for hepatitis B infection.
Hepatitis E, sometimes called hep E or HEV, is a virus carried in the blood which infects and damages the liver. A virus is a tiny particle that needs to infect and control the cells of your body in order to live and reproduce.
Hepatitis E causes acute hepatitis but does not lead to long-term liver damage. It can, however, cause a serious infection in women who are in the last three months of pregnancy, possibly being fatal in one in five cases. Hepatitis E may also cause a miscarriage at any stage of pregnancy.
Where is hepatitis E common?
Hepatitis E is similar to hepatitis A in that it occurs mainly by contamination of food and water. It is common in India, Asia, Africa, Middle East and Central America.
How is hepatitis E spread?
The mode of spread is similar to hepatitis A virus. The virus is passed from person to person by eating food or drinking water contaminated (infected) with the virus. The virus is passed out in the bowel motions of an infected person, which is why it is important to wash your hands after going to the toilet. It is not transmitted through blood, needles, or bodily fluids or through sexual contact.
Epidemics happen when water supplies are contaminated with sewage after monsoons and flooding.
Hepatitis Day Info provides you with everything you need to know about hepatitis. Our articles describe what hepatitis is, its causes and symptoms, and ways to prevent it.