28 July is World Hepatitis Day and as a disease that accounts for 1.34 million deaths per year – as many as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria – we all must take it seriously. When infected with hepatitis, the liver swells and patients can suffer serious liver damage. For some, it becomes chronic lasting a long time or for the rest of their lives.
There are up to 5 recognised strains of the Hepatitis virus tagged with the letters A – E.
Cause and Modes of Transmission
The hepatitis viruses are generally transmitted by taking contaminated food and water or through direct contact with the blood, semen or saliva of an infectious person. Alcoholic hepatitis is a liver inflammation caused by drinking too much alcohol.
While a Hepatitis A infection can cause serious illness but when treated, almost everyone recovers fully with a lifelong immunity. There is, thankfully, a vaccine available for HAV.
The Hepatitis B & C viruses are, together the leading cause of liver cancer in the world as a significant number of chronic sufferers develop cirrhosis or liver cancer. These are major health challenges, affecting 325 million people globally, yet a majority of those affected are unaware of their status. A baby can become infected with HBV through breastfeeding if a mother is infected. While there’s a vaccine for HBV, research is still ongoing to find a vaccine for HCV.
To be infected with the Hepatitis D virus (HDV), you’d need to already have the hepatitis B virus (HBV) either contracting them simultaneously or as a complication from HBV. Because of this relationship, a hepatitis D infection can be prevented by hepatitis B immunization. With more people getting vaccinated for HBV, the number of HDV infections has decreased. However, HDV-HBV co-infection still rapidly progresses towards liver-related death and treatment success rates are still generally low.
In the acute phase, symptoms are like a mild flu and may include diarrhoea; fatigue; loss of appetite; fever; muscle or joint aches; nausea; slight abdominal pain; vomiting and weight loss
As the patient gets worse, these symptoms follow
- Dark urine; hives; itchiness; light coloured faeces that may contain pus; yellow skin, sclera (white of eyes) and tongue.
Other patient outcomes depend on various factors especially the type of hepatitis contracted.
- Getting vaccinated with the available hepatitis vaccines
- For hepatitis B & C: practice safe sex, don’t share toothbrushes and only allow well sterilized skin perforating equipment like needles or razors especially at saloons, tattoo parlours etc.
- Reduce alcohol intake in general to keep your liver as resilient as possible
- Hepatitis B patients need rest and a diet rich in protein and carbohydrate
- Hepatitis B patients may need medications in some instances
- Treatment for Hepatitis C will require medications
Timely testing and treatment of viral hepatitis B and C can save lives. Please share this with those you know to help them too.