Even if you have been vaccinated against it, you may have many unanswered questions about hepatitis. The condition characterized by inflamed liver tissue can be caused by several factors, including viruses, an overactive immune system, and alcohol abuse. Hepatitis symptoms also vary widely, from a flu-like feeling that lightens in a few weeks to liver failure. Here are some facts worth knowing about each type of hepatitis – including the most common types of hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
1. There are five types of viral hepatitis.
Every hepatitis is characterized by inflammation of the liver tissue. When looking at viral hepatitis, the treatments, modes of transmission, and duration of symptoms vary depending on which virus strain causes them. Hepatitis A is an acute illness that often disappears over time. It spreads mainly to oral bowel movements, usually when someone ingests contaminated food or water with the hepatitis A virus. The second type, hepatitis B, can be either acute or chronic and spreads through bodily fluids such as blood and semen. Hepatitis C spreads mainly through blood and most likely develops into a chronic disease.
The fourth and fifth types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis D and E, although not much is talked about in the US. Like hepatitis A, hepatitis E is mostly spread by oral-fecal contamination. Hepatitis D can only be contracted if the patient already had hepatitis B. Both species are less common in the US than in countries without access to clean drinking water.
. 2 Non-viral hepatitis can be caused by alcohol and other factors.
Catching a virus is not the only way to get hepatitis. Even if you are up-to-date with your shots and are practicing good hygiene, you can get it through exposure to toxic chemicals, prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, or alcohol abuse. All of these conditions are known as toxic hepatitis. There is also autoimmune hepatitis, which occurs when the body's immune system attacks the liver and acts as an enemy intruder. Doctors are not sure why this is the case, but more common in people with a history of infection or other immune disorders.
. 3 Chronic hepatitis may not show any symptoms.
Chronic hepatitis is diagnosed when the disease lasts more than six months. Sometimes it develops after acute hepatitis, but more often asymptomatic. Vague signs of this form of hepatitis may be discomfort, fatigue and nonspecific upper abdominal discomfort. It is underdiagnosed, but if patients suspect they have hepatitis symptoms, they can undergo a liver function test, a viral serological test, or another blood test to confirm that it is there.
. 4 Yellow eyes and skin are common symptoms of acute hepatitis.
In contrast to chronic hepatitis, acute hepatitis quickly shows clear signs. These include pale stools, dark urine, fatigue, loss of appetite, and flu-like symptoms. One of the telltale signs of hepatitis is jaundice, which is characterized by yellowish skin or eyes. This happens when bilirubin, an orange waste produced by normal red blood cell depletion, accumulates in the blood because the liver is not functioning properly.
. 5 Some types of hepatitis can be prevented with vaccines.
Hepatitis types A and B can both be protected with vaccines. The hepatitis A vaccine is administered in two doses at intervals of six to 1
. 6 There is no hepatitis C vaccine, but the doctors are working on it.
Hepatitis C is the most common form of viral hepatitis, but there is still no vaccine for it. Scientists have identified at least six genetically distinct virus types and about fifty different subtypes. This makes it difficult to develop a single hepatitis C vaccine, but medical experts have been working on a vaccine since the disease was discovered 25 years ago.
. 7 Some types of hepatitis can be cured.
There is no specific therapy for hepatitis A once you have contracted, but the treatment is simple: with plenty of bed rest and hydration, the symptoms should resolve themselves within a few weeks months. Hepatitis B, on the other hand, heals. Pegylated interferon alphaA, a weekly shot administered over six months, eliminates hepatitis B in 25 percent of people. If it does not work, patients can take oral medications such as amivudine and adefovir, which suppress the symptoms. People with hepatitis C can take a combination of pegylated interferon and ribavirin tablets to recover from the condition, but this treatment does not always work and can lead to harsh side effects that are difficult for some patients to endure.
viral hepatitis – the prevention of the cause – whether it be drugs, alcohol or toxic chemicals in their environment – is the first and most important step in protecting the liver. Patients with autoimmune hepatitis may need to take medications such as prednisone, which reduce their immune activity. If chronic hepatitis has not been treated for a long time and the liver is severely damaged, then liver transplantation may be the only option.
. 8 Long-term effects of hepatitis can be fatal.
If left untreated for too long, chronic hepatitis can have serious health effects. Even if the symptoms are not immediately visible, hepatitis requires the liver. One of the worst effects of this condition is cirrhosis, a deadly liver disease that occurs when scar tissue begins to overtake healthy tissue in the liver. As a result, the liver may stop functioning properly and may cause gallstones, swelling of the legs and feet, increased blood pressure, chronic bruising and bleeding, and brain poisoning. Liver cancer is another potential long-term side effect of chronic hepatitis.
. 9 Baby boomers are more likely to have hepatitis C than other age groups.
Baby boomers, born between 1945 and 1965, have five times more frequent hepatitis C than the rest of the population [PDF]. The transmission of hepatitis C reached its peak in the 1960s in the 1980s before regular screening for the virus became commonplace. At that time, most boomers suffering from the disease probably had the virus. Health experts recommend that everyone in this age group be tested for hepatitis C, even if they show no symptoms.
10th Viral hepatitis causes more people to die than malaria.
There are more than 325 million people worldwide living with viral hepatitis – accounting for about four percent of the world's population. Each year, the disease causes 1.34 million deaths and is more deadly than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. While the mortality rates associated with these diseases are declining, the number of deaths from viral hepatitis between 2000 and 2015 increased by 22 percent. In 2017, Charles Gore, the then President of the World Hepatitis Alliance, said that the cause of the absence of the disease can be blamed for financing and prioritizing hepatitis compared to other global health threats. Lack of awareness is also a problem: only five percent of people with viral hepatitis know they have it.