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What is Hepatitis?


Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. It’s most commonly caused when a virus infects the liver – called viral hepatitis. Hepatitis can also occur with some autoimmune diseases, exposure to chemicals, and alcohol or drug use.

Types of Viral Hepatitis

There are five types of viral hepatitis; A, B, C, D, and E. Each type of viral hepatitis varies in the way they are spread, progress, and are managed. The most common types of hepatitis are types A, B, and C.

Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A occurs when a person consumes contaminated water or food. This is most common in areas of poor sanitation and hygiene.

Good hand-washing is helpful in preventing hepatitis A. A vaccine is available for people who are at risk or who are traveling to certain countries.

There is no specific medication is used to treat hepatitis A, but because it is usually a mild infection, rest and avoiding alcohol may be all that is needed for treatment.

Fortunately, most people fully recover from hepatitis A without long-term issues.

Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is spread via bodily fluids like saliva, blood, and semen from an infected person. Since it can be spread via blood, IV drug users are at an increased risk of being infected with the virus.

A hepatitis B vaccine is available to help prevent the infection. The vaccine is given as a three-dose series, and in the United States, the series is often started in newborns after delivery.

Most healthcare workers are required to be fully vaccinated. Hepatitis B can be short-term, but it can progress to a chronic (life-long) condition.

Once diagnosed, different treatment options are available to help manage the viral infection and reduce liver damage. Hepatitis B can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is spread via blood from a person infected with hepatitis C. Similar to hepatitis B, a person that uses needles to inject drugs is at an increased risk of contracting hepatitis C. It can also be spread with unsterilized equipment like tattoos or acupuncture needles. There is no hepatitis C vaccine available.

Previously, it was difficult to cure hepatitis C – but some newer advances in antiviral medications have made treatment possible. Some people can be completely cured, though others may relapse after treatment. Certain types of hepatitis C do not respond well to medications.
Unfortunately, hepatitis C can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Hepatitis Symptoms

Symptoms of hepatitis vary, and many people may not notice any symptoms, especially in the early stages.

Symptoms that may occur include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin (called jaundice)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abnormal stool
  • Abdominal pain

If these symptoms do occur, it’s important to seek medical care. A proper diagnosis and early treatment can help prevent liver cirrhosis and other problems in the future.

Hepatitis Treatment

Treatment varies based on the type of hepatitis, the extent of the disease, and whether the infection is acute or chronic.

Acute hepatitis is when the infection has been present for six months or less. Typically, there is no specific treatment necessary for healthy individuals with acute hepatitis.

If the infection persists for greater than six months, it is called chronic hepatitis. Both hepatitis B and C can develop into chronic hepatitis. The main treatment for chronic hepatitis is antiviral medications, which help prevent the virus from replicating and help prevent further liver damage.

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