Contributed by- Dr. Dhrity Vats
As per WHO 52 million people in India are affected from hepatitis; a major chronic disease. Hepatitis is indeed scary and if not treated on time can be fatal. It is really important to know about the different types of hepatitis and be prepared to combat it.
Let us read to know all about hepatitis and it’s types.
What is Hepatitis?
The word “hepatitis’ means an inflammation of the liver, is derived from the Greek word hepar which means “liver” and itis means “inflammation“. It can be caused by several different agents such as bacteria, viruses, excessive alcohol, drugs and autoimmune disease. Among these the hepatitis family of viruses is particularly dangerous because these viruses can cause large scale outbreaks and even epidemics that put whole communities at risk. Although all the hepatitis viruses (A,B,C,D & E) can cause inflammation of the liver, they differ in individual characteristics.
They sound similar but they aren’t: Know the differences between Hepatitis A,B,C, D and E
Here are some of the key differences between the viruses:
Hepatitis A & E: the food and water borne viruses
Both these viruses spread through food or drinking water that is contaminated by even a small amount of faecal matter containing the virus. Symptoms of Hepatitis A and E include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), fever, loss of appetite and vomiting. The viral infection can be either mild or severe and most of the people make full recovery when treated properly. However, hepatitis E can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women.
Prevention measures include vaccination against hepatitis A, as well as being careful about sanitation and food preparation. This is even more necessary for hepatitis E since there is no vaccine to guard against this virus in India.
Hepatitis D: the Delta virus
People suffering from hepatitis b are prone to hepatitis D. The infection caused by the virus leads to inflammation of the liver which can further cause liver damage and several long term liver problems. Hepatitis D can be both acute and chronic in nature. There is no proper treatment available for hepatitis D, one can only stay cautious and prevent it.
Hepatitis B & C: the blood borne viruses
Hepatitis B and C are more dangerous and spread through contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person. This can happen through the sharing of contaminated needles, syringes, drug injection equipment and unsterilized dental tools and barber instruments. Hepatitis B, can be transferred through unprotected sex and by an infected mother to her child at birth.
Both viruses can cause a short term (acute infection) in which most people clear the virus from the body within 6 months and there is no long term liver damage. The body can develop a chronic infection incase the virus persists in the liver for a long time, potentially leading to serious complications such as liver cirrhosis, liver failure and even cancer.
Hepatitis B can be prevented with a vaccine. For chronic hepatitis B, there are medicines and oral antivirals that help suppress the multiplication of the virus and most people must continue with the treatment for the lifetime.
For hepatitis C, there is no vaccine yet, but there are specific medicines and direct acting antivirals to effectively cure over 95% of patients with just a short course of treatment.
Symptoms of Hepatitis
During an acute infection, many people may not develop symptoms but those who do, report some of the following:
- Dark yellow urine
- Grey/clay colored stools
- Abdominal pain
- Joint pain and
- Loss of appetite
There are a very small number of people who progress very quickly to a highly virulent form which can lead to acute liver failure and deaths. This makes it important for patients who observe these symptoms to talk to their doctor. The doctor may recommend a series of tests to detect the presence of the virus so that the appropriate treatment can be prescribed to suppress or cure the infection.
People at risk of these infections include those who have received blood transfusions many years ago, exposed to any of the mentioned sources.
Several complications caused due to Hepatitis
Not all patients who have symptoms during the acute phase develop a chronic infections and many patients who have a chronic infection may not have experienced any symptoms earlier. For these reasons, the infections are important to identify and treat as they may silently lead to serious complications such as:
- Liver Cirrhosis: The liver has the amazing ability to regenerate itself. But when the damage is too much, as can happen in chronic hepatitis, healthy liver tissues are gradually replaced with scars tissue which affects the functioning of the liver. This is called cirrhosis.
- Liver Failure: Here, the liver is no longer able to perform its normal functions. Many complications occur, there is a threat to the patient’s life and they need a liver transplant to survive and get better.
- Liver Cancer: Patients with chronic hepatitis B&C are more likely to develop liver cancer, especially if they have already developed cirrhosis.
Chronic hepatitis B cannot be totally eradicated but the virus can be suppressed by medications. This will prevent many of the complication mentioned. There is also a vaccine to prevent and protect from the virus contamination. For hepatitis C, there is no vaccine but there are medications that can help cure almost all (>95%) infected patients. However, there seems to be lack of awareness about the viruses that is really a matter of worry.
Most of the people only visit the doctor when some symptoms appear but this could be a stage when liver health is already started to deteriorate and the liver is in a critical condition. The wise thing to do is to talk to your doctor and get tested for either of these infections if you been exposed to the risks identified above.
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