Written by Eu Johnny
What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver. The functions of liver include:
- Blood detoxification
- Vitamins storage
- Hormones production
Hepatitis may interrupt the normal functions of liver and hence the risk of severe health problems to our bodies.
Types of hepatitis
Hepatitis mostly caused by viruses. There are a total of 5 types of viral hepatitis, where hepatitis A, B, and C being the most common 3 types. Each is caused by different types of virus. All these viruses can be acute, lasting for 6 months or less and types B and C can be chronic, lasting for longer period. There are also other types of hepatitis like auto-immune hepatitis, alcohol-induced hepatitis as well as drug-induced hepatitis.
Usually, the symptoms will only appear from day 15 to 180 days after infection. This applies to all types of viral hepatitis.
- Acute hepatitis
The early stage of hepatitis is called acute phase. The symptoms are similar to mild flu and include:
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle or joint pain
- Weight loss
- Jaundice (yellow eyeball)
- Chronic hepatitis
In the chronic stage, it can lead to progressive liver failure, resulting in jaundice, confusion and blood in the feces or vomit. The following are the common symptoms of chronic hepatitis:
- Dark urine
- Itchy skin
- Light-colored feces
- Yellow skin
If hepatitis is suspected, you can confirm the diagnosis by these following tests:
- Blood test: These can detect is it our body is producing antibodies to fight against the disease and they can assess the liver function by checking the levels of certain liver proteins and enzymes.
- Nucleic acid tests: Only for testing the virus B and C, an HBV DNA or HCV RNA test can confirm the speed at which the virus is reproducing in the liver and it will show which virus it active.
- A liver biopsy: This can measure the extent of liver damage and the possibility of cancer.
Route of transmission
Hepatitis A – is caused by consuming food or water infected with the hepatitis A virus and also can be transmitted through anal-oral contact during sex or by sharing the same injection needle.
Hepatitis B – can be spread through contact with infected blood, semen and some other body fluid.
Hepatitis C – mostly results from percutaneous infection, occurring when the HCV get under the skin. It is usually spread through needle-stick injuries and lack of infection control in healthcare settings.
Attention: alcohol, medicines, obesity, and chemical exposure may aggravate inflammation and make the symptoms worse.
Prevention of hepatitis
Hepatitis A: The following steps can help avoid infection, especially when travelling:
- Wash hands with soap and dry your hand after using toilet.
- Only consume food that has just been cooked.
- Only drink commercially bottled water.
- Use hand sanitizer before eating food.
- Get a vaccine for HAV before travelling.
Hepatitis B: To minimize the risk of transmission:
- Practice safe sex using condoms.
- Only use unused needles.
- Don not share toothbrushes or razors.
- Only allow the use of well sterile needle during acupuncture, piercing or tattoo.
- Get a vaccine for HBV.
Hepatitis C: The following steps can help prevent HCV transmission:
- Do not share needles or toothbrushes.
- Make sure equipment is sterile for any skin piercing.
- Consume alcohol with moderation.
- Do not inject illegal drugs.
Hepatitis A and C are curable, but hepatitis B is only preventable by vaccine. A cure is still under development.
- Hepatitis A. (2016, April 20). Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis-a/#outlook-for-hepatitis-a
- Hepatitis A, B, and C: Learn the differences. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.immunize.org/catg.d/p4075.pdf
- Hepatitis B. (2016, March 21). Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis-b/#outlook-for-hepatitis-b
- Hepatitis C FAQs for health professionals. (2017, January 27). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/hcvfaq.htm#section1
- HCV Guidance: Recommendations for testing, managing, and treating Hepatitis C (2017 July). Retrieved from http://www.hcvguidelines.org