What you have to know about viral hepatitis and prevention

HEPATITIS refers to an inflammation of the liver cells and damage to the liver. There are different types and causes, but the symptoms can be similar.

The liver’s functions include detoxifying the blood, storing vitamins and producing hormones. Hepatitis can disrupt these processes and create severe health problems throughout the body.

SYMPTOMS

Many people with hepatitis experience either mild or no symptoms. When symptoms appear, they can do so from 15 to 180 days after infection. This applies to all types of hepatitis.

Acute hepatitis

The initial phase of hepatitis is called the acute phase. The acute phase is not usually dangerous, but in certain people, it can result in acute liver failure and death. It may also progress to a chronic infection. This is most likely with HBV or HCV.

The symptoms are similar to mild flu, and may include:

• diarrhoea;

• fatigue;

• loss of appetite;

• mild fever;

• muscle or joint aches;

• nausea;

• slight abdominal pain;

• vomiting;

• weight loss; and

• jaundice.

As the disease progresses, chronic hepatitis can lead to progressive liver failure, resulting in jaundice, swelling of the lower extremities, confusion, and blood in the faeces or vomit.

The following may occur:

• dark urine;

• hives;

• itchy skin;

•light-coloured faeces; and

• yellow skin, whites of the eyes, and tongue.

Patient outcomes after the acute phase depend on various factors, especially the type of hepatitis. Some people will not know they have chronic hepatitis until liver failure occurs.

Hepatitis A is caused by consuming food or water infected with the hepatitis A virus (HAV), often while travelling abroad. People in parts of the world with poor sanitation are particularly at risk of contracting HAV. The virus can also be transmitted through anal-oral contact during sex or by injecting drugs. Hepatitis A is often mild, and most people make a full recovery, after which they are immune and therefore protected from the virus in the future.This type of hepatitis will normally resolve in two months without leaving any long-term effects. A person with HAV will usually be immune to hepatitis A for the rest of their life. However, if it progresses, symptoms can be severe or life-threatening.There are safe and effective vaccines available at Heritage Pharmacy Clinic that protect against this virus.

Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and is spread through contact with infected blood, semen and some other body fluids. It can be a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Most adults infected with the HBV virus recover within 90 days and achieve lifelong immunity. However, 90% of infants, 20% of older children and five percent of adults will develop a chronic infection and develop severe health problems, such as liver cancer and cirrhosis.

HBV infection can become chronic. This can lead to complications, including scarring of the liver or cirrhosis. It can also cause a type of cancer known as hepatocellular carcinoma. There is no cure for HBV. However, the incidence rate has dropped in countries where the vaccine is available, and this vaccine is 95% effective against the infection. There is a safe and effective vaccine available at Heritage Pharmacy Clinic that can protect against HBV.

Hepatitis C mostly results from percutaneous infection, occurring when the HCV virus gets under the skin. It is usually spread through injected narcotics, needle-stick injuries, and a lack of infection control in healthcare settings. One in four people with HCV get cirrhosis, and this can lead to liver cancer. The infection can now be cured, and 15% to 25% of people with HCV clear the infection without treatment. Hepatitis A and C are curable, but hepatitis B is only preventable by vaccine. A cure is still under development.

Hepatitis can be dangerous and difficult to treat, so people are advised to take precautions against possible infection.

PREVENTING HEPATITIS A

Hepatitis A is mostly spread through infected food and water. The following steps can help avoid infection, especially when travelling.

• Wash hands with soap after using the bathroom.

• Only consume food that has just been cooked.

• Only drink commercially bottled water, or boiled water if you’re unsure of local sanitation.

• Only eat peelable fruits if you are in a location with unreliable sanitation.

• Only eat raw vegetables if you are sure they have been cleaned or disinfected thoroughly.

• Get a vaccine for HAV at Heritage Pharmacy Clinic before travelling to places where hepatitis may be endemic.

PREVENTING HEPATITIS B

To minimise the risk of transmission.

• Tell any sex partner if you are a carrier or try to find out if they carry the disease.

• Practice safe sex using condoms.

• Only use previously unused, clean needles.

• Do not share toothbrushes, razors or manicure instruments.

• Only allow the use of well-sterilised skin perforating equipment, such as during a tattoo, piercing or acupuncture.

• Have the HBV vaccination at Heritage Pharmacy Clinic if you are at risk.

HOW TO PREVENT HEPATITIS C

As this is often passed on through the transfer of infected bodily fluids, the following steps can help prevent HCV transmission.

• Do not share needles, toothbrushes, or manicure equipment.

• Make sure equipment is well-sterilised for any skin piercing.

• Consume alcohol with moderation.

• Do not inject illegal drugs. -Supplied