Millions of people in America as well as globally are suffering from the hepatitis virus. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states, about 1.2 million people in America are infected by hepatitis B. These viral infections cause inflammation to the liver which later on can lead to severe liver damage.
There are two classifications of hepatitis. One is viral, and the other is due to alcohol abuse or an autoimmune system response.
Types of Viral Hepatitis
Viral hepatitis has five types which are A, B, C, D, and E. Each type is caused by a different virus which one can contract differently.
HAV or hepatitis A virus is usually spread by ingesting food and water contaminated with feces by a person with hepatitis A.
The hepatitis B virus or HBV can be spread through contact with body fluids like blood, vaginal secretions, and semen, that has HBV. Sharing needles during drug use, sharing razors, or having sexual contact with a partner infected with the virus, increases your risk of contracting hepatitis B.
Also known as HCV, the hepatitis C virus is contracted through sexual contact and direct contact with infected blood, and other body secretions. HCV is the most common blood borne viral infection in America, infecting about 4 million Americans today.
The hepatitis D virus (HDV) or delta hepatitis can be contracted through immediate contact with blood carrying the virus. This type of hepatitis is rare and only occurs to people who are infected with hepatitis B and cannot replicate without it.
Hepatitis E is found in areas with poor hygiene. Ingesting water contaminated with feces is the most common way of getting infected with HEV. Although uncommon in the United States, HEV cases are reported from developing countries.
Heavy drinkers are most likely to have alcoholic hepatitis. High alcohol consumption causes inflammation in the liver. Over time, this damage can become permanent and lead to liver cirrhosis and failure, scarring and thickening of the liver.
Overdose and overuse of medication can also lead to hepatitis.
Autoimmune hepatitis is a condition where your immune system attacks and inflames your liver. If not treated, this can lead to cirrhosis and other complications. This chronic disease is most common in women.
Common Symptoms of Hepatitis
Symptoms of chronic and infectious hepatitis such as hepatitis B and C do not show at the beginning of infection. These symptoms may only occur in a later stage where the liver is already damaged and isn’t functional.
Acute Hepatitis signs and symptoms:
loss of appetite
unexplained weight loss
skin and eyes appear to be yellowish
Since chronic hepatitis develops slowly, the signs and symptoms are too subtle to notice.
How is Hepatitis Diagnosed
When diagnosing hepatitis, your medical provider will checking your medical history and perform a physical exam to be able to identify if you have risks of infectious and noninfectious hepatitis.
Viral Hepatitis Panel
If risk factors or symptoms are present a group of blood tests called a viral hepatitis panel can be performed to help diagnose if viral hepatitis is present. The panel typically includes:
- Hepatitis A antibody, IgM
- Hepatitis B tesing: Hepatitis B core antibody, IgM and Hepatitis B surface Ag
- Hepatitis C antibody
Further tests may also be required such as the following:
Liver Function Test
A liver function test will determine the efficiency of your liver. Blood samples are taken and screened for slight abnormalities that indicate that there is a problem. Other blood tests may be required if your liver function test results are abnormal. Antibodies that cause autoimmune hepatitis can be detected through these tests and can also check for the exact virus that causes hepatitis.
To take a closer look, your doctor will require an ultrasound. This procedure is used to see the organs in your body and show if your liver is enlarged. Or show signs of tumors, fluid in your abdomen, and also see if there are abnormalities in your gallbladder and check your pancreas.
A liver biopsy is performed to check for abnormal cells in the liver. A needle is inserted into the body to collect a tissue sample which is sent to the lab for analysis.
There are various types of treatments for acute and chronic hepatitis.
Hepatitis A is a short-term illness; thus, it does not require treatment. Although, your doctor may prescribe bed rests to deal with any discomfort.
A vaccine for hepatitis A is available to prevent infection both children and adults. Children ages 12 and 18 months begin a two series vaccines. Vaccines for adults can be combined with the hepatitis B vaccine.
Much like hepatitis A, acute hepatitis B doesn’t require a specific treatment. Antiviral medications are used to treat persons infected with chronic HBV which can last for months or years, depending on how the virus is reacting to the procedure.
Getting vaccinated with HBV can help prevent infection. It is recommended that newborns are vaccinated with HBV and should complete three vaccinations in the first six months of their lives.
Acute and chronic forms of hepatitis C are treated with antiviral medications. People living with this condition are treated with antiviral drug combinations. Further testing is performed to ensure the best treatment.
Without treatment people living with chronic HCV may develop severe scarring of the liver or cirrhosis which, after some time, will require a liver transplant.
Currently, there is no antiviral medication for hepatitis D. Although there was a study in 2013 about a drug called alpha interferon which was used to treat HDV, but only 25-30 percent of people have shown positive results from the treatment.
By getting a hepatitis B vaccine, one can prevent getting hepatitis D.
Adequate rest increased fluid intake, and proper nutrition are just some of the ways to treat HEV since there are no specific medical treatments available for this disease. Women who develop this infection during pregnancy should be monitored closely.
It is essential to get treated with corticosteroids in the early treatment of autoimmune hepatitis. Immune system suppressants can also be included in the treatment and can also be used solely to treat autoimmune hepatitis.
How to Prevent Hepatitis?
The practice of good hygiene at all times will not only help you prevent hepatitis A and E. When unsure of the cleanliness of the area, particularly when traveling abroad, always consider bringing bottled water and avoid local water, raw fruits and vegetables, and uncooked or undercooked shellfish and oysters.
To prevent contracting hepatitis B, C, and D, avoid direct contact with blood, never share razors, needles, or a toothbrush. Also, using protection during sexual intercourse may help in preventing the infection.