Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The condition can be self-limiting or can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer. Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world but other infections, toxic substances (e.g. alcohol, certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases can also cause hepatitis. Scientists have identified 5 unique hepatitis viruses, identified by the letters A, B, C, D, and E. While all cause liver disease, they vary in important ways. Hepatitis A and E are typically caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B, C and D usually occur as a result of parental contact with infected body fluids. Together hepatitis B and C cause approximately 80% of all liver cancer deaths and kill close to 1.4 million people every year – more than either HIV or tuberculosis. Viral Hepatitis is the seventh leading cause of death worldwide.
Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is present in the faeces of infected persons and is most often transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food. Certain sex practices can also spread HAV. Infections are in many cases mild, with most people making a full recovery and remaining immune from further HAV infections. However, HAV infections can also be severe and life threatening. Most people in areas of the world with poor sanitation have been infected with this virus. Safe and effective vaccines are available to prevent HAV. Viral hepatitis symptoms are similar no matter which type of hepatitis you have. If symptoms occur, you might experience any or all of the following:
- jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- loss of appetite
- dark urine
- joint pain
- abdominal pain
Very rarely, a recently acquired case of viral hepatitis can cause liver failure and death. Sometimes in these instances, a liver transplant (if a liver is available) can save a life. For all types of viral hepatitis, symptoms are less common in children than in adults, and for people of any age with HCV infection, they are less likely to experience symptoms.
Incubation period: 15 to 50 days, average 28 days
Treatment of Hepatitis A. There is no treatment for HAV other than supportive care. Avoid alcohol, it can worsen liver disease.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is transmitted through exposure to infective blood, semen, and other body fluids. HBV can be transmitted from infected mothers to infants at the time of birth or from family member to infant in early childhood. Transmission may also occur through transfusions of HBV-contaminated blood and blood products, contaminated injections during medical procedures, and through injection drug use. HBV also poses a risk to healthcare workers who sustain accidental needle stick injuries while caring for infected-HBV patients. Safe and effective vaccines are available to prevent HBV. HBV is found in blood and certain body fluids.
- The virus is spread when blood or body fluid from an infected person enters the body of a person who is not immune.
- HBV is spread through having unprotected sex with an infected person,
- sharing needles or “works” when shooting drugs
- exposure to needlesticks or sharps on the job
- from an infected mother to her baby during birth.
- Exposure to infected blood in ANY situation can be a risk for transmission.
Incubation period: 60 to 150 days, average 90 days
Treatment of Hepatitis B. People with chronic HBV infection should have a medical evaluation for liver disease every 6–12 months. Several antiviral medications are currently licensed for the treatment of individuals with chronic HBV. These drugs are effective in preventing serious liver problems in up to 40% of patients, but the drugs do not get rid of the virus. Liver transplant is the last resort, but livers are not always available. Avoid alcohol, it can worsen liver disease. There is no medication to treat recently acquired HBV infection.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV)
Hepatitus C Virus is mostly transmitted through exposure to infected blood. There are two forms of hepatitis C: acute and chronic.This may happen through transfusions of HCV-contaminated blood and blood products, contaminated injections during medical procedures, and through injection drug use. Sexual transmission is also possible, but is much less common. There is no vaccine for HCV. You can catch it from:
- Sharing drugs and needles
- Having sex, especially if you have an STD, an HIV infection, several partners, or have rough sex
- Being stuck by infected needles
- Birth — a mother can pass it to a child
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but there are now very effective treatments which can cure up to 80% of those infected depending on the strain of the virus they have. Around 20% of those who are infected with hepatitis C clear the infection naturally during the acute phase (first six months) and do not develop a chronic infection requiring treatment.
Incubation period: 14 to 180 days, average 45 days
Treatment of Hepatitis C.
People with chronic HCV infection should have a medical evaluation for liver disease every 6–12 months. There are drugs licensed for the treatment of individuals with chronic HCV infection. Combination therapy is currently the treatment of choice and can eliminate the virus in approximately 40–50% of patients with genotype 1 (the most common genotype in the U.S.). The latest is a once-daily pill called Harvoni that cures the disease in most people in 8-12 weeks. It combines two drugs: sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) and ledipasvir. In clinical trials, the most common side effects were fatigue andheadache. However, the medicine is expensive.• Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.
• Avoid alcohol. It can worsen liver disease.
• There is no medication for the treatment of recently acquired HCV infection.
Hepatitis D virus (HDV) infections occur only in those who are infected with HBV. The dual infection of HDV and HBV can result in a more serious disease and worse outcome. Hepatitis B vaccines provide protection from HDV infection.
Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is mostly transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food. HEV is a common cause of hepatitis outbreaks in developing parts of the world and is increasingly recognized as an important cause of disease in developed countries. Safe and effective vaccines to prevent HEV infection have been developed but are not widely available.