by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Hepatitis is defined as inflammation of the liver. Prolonged inflammation can lead to scarring or cirrhosis of the liver. It can be caused by an infection, by a virus or excess exposure to toxins like alcohol. There are 5 viruses that are known to cause hepatitis – hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. The type of hepatitis the virus causes has the same name as that virus, for example hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus.
Hepatitis A is the most common type of hepatitis and usually resolves itself without leading to long term liver problems. Hepatitis A is a virus found in the stool of an infected person. It is usually transmitted from person to person when an infected person doesn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom and then touches things that get put in your mouth. For example, if an employee in a restaurant is infected and doesn’t properly wash their hands before touching the food,the customers that eat the food the employee touched can get hepatitis A. Another common place for hepatitis A to be found is day care centers.
Children in diapers can get stool on their hands then touch toys etc. that the other children put in their mouths. Also, daycare employees need to be especially careful to thoroughly wash their hands after changing diapers. The symptoms are similar to the flu with fever, fatigue, no appetite and a general achy feeling. Occasionally there is some jaundice. Hepatitis A is usually short term with symptoms subsiding in approximately 3 months. Though there is no specific treatment for hepatitis A there is a vaccine available. It is recommended that if you are planning to travel to areas where the virus is common that you get the vaccine.
Hepatitis B caused by the hepatitis B virus can be acute or chronic. It is possible hepatitis B without symptoms, which means you can have hepatitis B and not know it. It is contagious when spread by contact with blood and body fluids of an infected person. That means you can get hepatitis B by having unprotected sex with an infected person, sharing needles or personal items like toothbrush or razors with an infected person, or by getting any type of body piercing or tattoo with tools that are not properly cleaned. It can also be passed from an infected woman to her unborn baby. However, you can not get hepatitis B from casual contact like shaking hands, hugging and kissing, sharing food or drinks or from sneezing and coughing. The symptoms of Hepatitis B usually present like the flu, but many people with hepatitis B either don’t have any symptoms or don’t realize their symptoms are related to hepatitis B. In most cases hepatitis B will resolve itself with rest, drinking alot of water, and eating a healthy diet. In cases of chronic hepatitis B treatment depends on the severity of the infection and if there’s any liver damage. There is a vaccine for hepatitis B available for all ages and it is recommended that everyone be vaccinated as part of the regular vaccine schedule.
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus and over time can lead to permanent liver damage including cirrhosis, cancer of the liver and liver failure. Occasionally a person that contracts hepatitis C has it for only a short time and the gets better, however in most cases it develops into a long term chronic condition. Hepatitis C is transmitted through contact with an infected person’s blood, not by casual contact. Many people with hepatitis C do not have symptoms or even realize they have hepatitis C until they try to donate blood and the pre-screening blood test shows abnormalities. If there are symptoms they are usually similar to the flu. Treatment of hepatitis C is a decision that you and your doctor need to discuss. There are anti-viral medications available, but the side effects can be difficult. Resting, eating a healthy diet and exercise can help improve your general feeling of well being. It is also important to prevent further liver damage by avoiding alcohol, illegal drugs and certain medications. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C currently available.
Hepatitis D and E are very rare in the US. Both are considered to be serious liver diseases with symptoms similar to the others. There are no vaccines for either of these viruses currently available.
When the liver is inflamed due to excessive consumption of alcohol it’s known as alcoholic hepatitis. There are rarely any symptoms and is usually diagnosed with a blood test. The only effective treatment is to stop exposing the liver to the toxins, ie. avoid alcohol.
With the exception of alcoholic hepatitis the best way to prevent hepatitis is to get vaccinated with the available vaccines and learn good handwashing techniques and practice them.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.