Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver and it is mainly caused by a group of viruses called hepatitis viruses although other things such as alcohol or obesity can also cause inflammation within the liver. There are 5 hepatitis viruses- A, B, C, D, and E.
Hepatitis A and E are passed through contaminated food and drink and usually resolve on their own, without treatment. However, in some individuals, they can cause serious illness.
Hepatitis B, C, and D are passed through body fluids for example through intercourse, blood transfusion or sharing of injection needles. In many individuals, these forms of hepatitis can persist for many years and can result in liver failure or liver cancer.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis?
Occasionally, some individuals may be infected with hepatitis without ever knowing. This is because the infection can occur without producing any symptoms. However, most people will experience varying degrees of symptoms such as listed below.
- Generalized muscle and joint pains
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine
- Tummy pain
- Yellow eyes (jaundice)
- Itchy skin
How is hepatitis diagnosed?
Hepatitis can be diagnosed when a person has the symptoms and a blood test to check for the virus is positive.
How is hepatitis treated?
The different types of hepatitis are treated in different ways. Hepatitis A and E usually do not require any specific treatment as they will usually resolve on their own. However, depending on the severity of the illness, one might require supportive treatment such as pain-killers, hospital admission for fluids (drip) and observation.
On the other hand, hepatitis B, C, and D can also resolve on their own after a brief illness. However, they have the potential for causing long term problems with the liver and can also lead to liver failure or cancer.
There may be medication available to treat hepatitis B, C, and D to help reduce the rate of progression and keep the virus under control.
How can hepatitis be prevented?
In the case of hepatitis A and E, it is important to make sure food is not contaminated by these viruses by ensuring raw foods are properly washed and meat, particularly pork, meat is thoroughly cooked.
Hepatitis B, C, and D can be prevented by taking precautions to avoid contact with infected body fluids. This involves the use of condoms during intercourse, avoiding the sharing of needles and hospitals making sure that all blood products are screened to expected standards. For healthcare workers