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Viral Hepatitis


Hepatitis is the term used to describe inflammation of the liver. It's usually the result of a viral infection (A,B,C,D, E) or liver damage caused by drinking alcohol or auto-immune diseases.

Short-term (acute) hepatitis often has no noticeable symptoms, so you may not realise you have it. If symptoms do develop, they can include: muscle and joint pain, a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above, feeling unusually tired all the time, loss of appetite, abdominal (tummy) pain, dark urine, pale, grey-coloured poo (stool), itchy skin, yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice). Long-term (chronic) hepatitis also may not have any obvious symptoms until the liver stops working properly (liver failure) and may only be picked up during blood tests. In the later stages it can cause jaundice, swelling in the legs, ankles and feet, confusion, and blood in your stools or vomit.

Hepatitis A

Introduction: Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus. It's usually caught by consuming food and drink contaminated with poo (stool) of an infected person and is most common in countries where sanitation is poor.

Treatment: There's no specific treatment for it, other than to relieve symptoms such as pain, nausea and itching. It will normally pass on its own within a couple of months.

Course & Complication: For most people, hepatitis A will pass within two months and there will be no long-term effects. Once it passes, you normally develop life-long immunity against the virus. Life-threatening complications such as liver failure are rare, affecting less than 1 in every 250 people with hepatitis A. People most at risk include those with pre-existing liver problems and elderly people.If liver failure does occur, a liver transplant is usually needed to treat it.

Vaccination: Vaccination against hepatitis A is recommended if you're travelling to an area where the virus is common, such as the Indian subcontinent, Africa, Central and South America, the Far East and Eastern Europe.

Hepatitis B

Introduction: Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus, which is spread in the blood of an infected person. It's a common infection worldwide and is usually spread from infected pregnant women to their babies, or from child-to-child contact. In rare cases, it can be spread through unprotected sex and injecting drugs.

Treatment: It depends on how long you've been infected for:

  •   if you've been exposed to the virus in the last few days, emergency treatment can help stop you becoming infected
  •   if you've only had the infection for a few weeks or months (acute hepatitis B), you may only need treatment to relieve your symptoms while your body fights off the infection
  •   if you've had the infection for more than six months (chronic hepatitis B), you may be offered treatment with medicines that can keep the virus under control and reduce the risk of liver damage

Chronic hepatitis B often requires long-term or lifelong treatment and regular monitoring to check for any further liver problems.

Course & Complication: The vast majority of people infected with hepatitis B in adulthood are able to fight off the virus and fully recover within one to three months. Most will then be immune to the infection for life. Babies and children with hepatitis B are more likely to develop a chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis B affects around: 90% of babies with hepatitis B, 20% of older children with hepatitis B & 5% of adults with hepatitis B. Although treatment can help, there's a risk that people with chronic hepatitis B could eventually develop life-threatening problems such as scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) or liver cancer.

Vaccination: Vaccination against hepatitis B is recommended for people in high-risk groups, such as healthcare workers, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, and people travelling to parts of the world where the infection is more common.

Hepatitis C

Introduction: Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus. It's usually spread through blood-to-blood contact with an infected person. It's most commonly spread through sharing needles used to inject drugs. Poor healthcare practices and unsafe medical injections are the main way it’s spread

Treatment: Hepatitis C can be treated with a combination of medicines that stop the virus multiplying inside the body. These usually need to be taken for several months. Using the latest medications, up to 90% or more of people with hepatitis C may be cured. However, it's important to be aware that you won't be immune to the infection and should take steps to reduce your risk of becoming infected again.

Course & Complication: Hepatitis C often causes no noticeable symptoms, or only flu-like symptoms, so many people are unaware they're infected. Around one in four people will fight off the infection and be free of the virus. In the remaining cases, it will stay in the body for many years. This is known as chronic hepatitis C and can cause cirrhosis and liver failure.

Vaccination OR Prevention: There's no vaccine for hepatitis C, but there are ways to reduce your risk of becoming infected.

  •   not sharing any drug-injecting equipment with other people – including needles and other equipment such as syringes, spoons and filters
  •   not sharing razors or toothbrushes that might be contaminated with blood

The risk of getting hepatitis C through sex is very low. However, it may be higher if blood is present, such as menstrual blood or from minor bleeding during anal sex.

Hepatitis D

Introduction: Hepatitis D is caused by the hepatitis D virus. It only affects people who are already infected with hepatitis B, as it needs the hepatitis B virus to be able to survive in the body. Hepatitis D is usually spread through blood-to-blood contact or sexual contact.

Treatment: There is no specific treatment.

Course & Complication: Long-term infection with hepatitis D and hepatitis B can increase your risk of developing serious problems, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. Vaccination OR Prevention: There's no vaccine specifically for hepatitis D, but the hepatitis B vaccine can help protect you from it.

Hepatitis E

Introduction: Hepatitis E is caused by the hepatitis E virus. It's usually caught by consuming food and drink contaminated with poo of an infected person.

Treatment: There is no specific treatment. Symptomatic treatment is sufficient under care of epxerts.

Course & Complication: Hepatitis E is generally a mild and short-term infection that doesn't require any treatment, but it can be serious in a small number of people. It can become chronic in people who have a suppressed immune system, such as those who have had an organ transplant.

Vaccination OR Prevention: There's no vaccine for hepatitis E, but you can reduce your risk by practising good food and water hygiene measures, particularly when travelling to parts of the world with poor sanitation.

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