Hepatitis Alert! The ABC of Hepatitis
Hepatitis! An infection which though less known and less talked about kills more people annually than HIV, Malaria or Tuberculosis. Every year, hepatitis B and C alone cause 1.3 million deaths globally. They are also responsible for 2 out of every 3 liver cancer deaths across the world. At this point, if you are wondering what on earth hepatitis is, you are not alone. Out of the over 300 million people living with viral hepatitis worldwide, about 240 million are unaware they have the disease. So today on The TropicalMD, let’s take some time to educate ourselves on viral hepatitis, shall we?
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis refers to inflammation – a kind of irritation – of the liver, most commonly caused by viruses. Other causes of hepatitis are autoimmune hepatitis and toxic hepatitis (caused by alcohol and certain drugs).
The liver is an important organ in the body. It removes toxins from the body, stores vitamins, and regulates hormones among many other important functions. Inflammation and scarring caused by hepatitis can disrupt all these processes leading to severe and potentially fatal problems in your body.
What is Viral Hepatitis?
As the name implies, Viral hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver caused by viruses. Hepatitis viruses are the most common causes of hepatitis worldwide. There are five important hepatitis viruses: hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E.
Hepatitis A is spread through food and water contaminated by the poop (faeces) containing the hepatitis A virus. People living in countries with poor hygiene and lack of safe water sources are particularly at risk of contracting hepatitis A.
Certain sex practices can also spread hepatitis A virus.
There are safe and effective vaccines available to prevent Hepatitis A. Hepatitis A can also be prevented by practising good personal hygiene such as washing hands regularly (especially before meals and after using the washroom), washing of fruits and vegetables before using them, not eating raw shellfish or oysters, and drinking water only from safe sources.
There is no treatment for hepatitis A. The disease is often mild and in most people, the body can fight and clear the disease by itself within a few weeks. However, Hepatitis A can sometimes progress to cause severe and life-threatening symptoms.
Hepatitis B and HIV share similarities concerning transmission. Hepatitis B virus is transmitted through direct contact with infectious body fluids such as blood, semen, or vaginal secretions containing the virus.
As such, hepatitis B can spread through unprotected sex, sharing toothbrushes, razors, needles or syringes, using unsterilized needles (tattooing). It can also be spread through contact with open sores of people with hepatitis B. Hepatitis B Virus can be transmitted from infected mothers to children at the time of birth or from family member to infant in early childhood.
It is worth noting that the hepatitis B virus is not spread through hugging, coughing, sneezing, or breastfeeding. Also, although the hepatitis B virus can be found in saliva, it is not believed to be transmitted through kissing or sharing cups and utensils with an infected person.
There is a safe and effective vaccine available for preventing hepatitis B. Hepatitis B vaccination is highly effective in preventing the infection and hence, vaccination is highly recommended. However, if you have not yet been vaccinated, it is advisable to protect your self by using a condom, not sharing toothbrushes, razors or nail cutters with an infected person, and avoid getting piercing or tattoos from unlicensed places.
Hepatitis B virus currently has no real cure. However, there are some antiviral drugs that slow the replication (multiplying) of the virus and reduce the risk of complications that Hepatitis B can cause.
Hepatitis C virus is spread through exposure to infected blood. The most common modes by which the Hepatitis C virus is spread is through injection drug abuse, inadequate sterilising of medical equipment, and transfusion with unscreened blood and blood products
There is currently no vaccination for hepatitis C virus. It is therefore very important to reduce your risk of exposure to the virus. Avoid sharing toothbrushes, razors, or manicure equipment. When getting a tattoo or body piercing, you should make sure that the equipment used are well sterilized.
The good news is, Hepatitis C has a cure. This often involves the combination of pegylated interferon and ribavirin. People with different Hepatitis C respond differently to treatment, some more favourably than others.
It is spread through contact with infected blood.
Hepatitis D only occurs in people who are already infected with Hepatitis B. Therefore, you can prevent Hepatitis D by preventing Hepatitis B.
There is currently no effective treatment for Hepatitis D viral infection
As with Hepatitis A, Hepatitis E is mainly transmitted through taking in food or water contaminated by poop/ faeces of an infected person. It can also be spread by eating raw shellfish caught from water contaminated by sewage.
Although there is currently a vaccine for preventing Hepatitis E, it is not widely available. It is best you reduce your exposure by practising good personal hygiene and sanitation.
There is no treatment for this virus. However, the disease usually resolves on its own.
Symptoms of Hepatitis
The majority of people with hepatitis experience mild to no symptoms. Nevertheless, some symptoms you may experience include:
- Loss of appetite
- Mild fever
- Muscle or joint pain
- Slight abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Jaundice (yellowing of whites of the eyes and/or skin)
- Dark urine
- Itchy skin
- Clay coloured faeces
Complications of Hepatitis
Because the virus attacks the liver, hepatitis can result in chronic liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer. These can cause the liver to stop functioning normally and lead to a condition known as liver failure. The consequences of developing liver failure include:
- Abnormal bleeding with difficulty in clotting
- A buildup of fluid in your abdomen, known as ascites
- Kidney failure
- Memory loss, and diminished mental abilities due to the buildup of toxins, like ammonia, that affect brain function
Call to Action
Chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C are life-threatening infectious diseases that cause serious liver damage, cancer and premature death, along with other extrahepatic manifestations including diabetes, skin rash, arthritis and renal failure.
Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are silent epidemics, affecting millions of people across the globe including children and marginalized populations.
9 out of 10 people with hepatitis worldwide are living with the virus without knowing, resulting in the real possibility of them developing fatal liver disease or liver cancer at some point in their lives, as well as unknowingly transmitting the infection to others.
With the availability of effective vaccines and treatments for hepatitis B and a cure for hepatitis C, the elimination and control of viral hepatitis is achievable. However, there is a need for greater awareness and understanding of the disease and its risks.
So dear reader, do play your part. Know your hepatitis status! Get tested and vaccinated. Share this post to promote awareness (you may be saving a life) and don’t forget to leave a kind word in the comments section.
To find out more about hepatitis, visit: