What is hepatitis?

Vaccine shot against Hepatitis

Hepatitis is a condition that causes dangerous liver inflammation. If left untreated, it can lead to serious illness and can even be fatal.

Types of hepatitis

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), five types exist:

Hepatitis A: It is usually caused by consuming contaminated food or water. Since the virus exists in the feces of infected people, it is most seen in countries with ineffective sanitation practices. The WHO reports that most cases are mild, but can be severe in some cases.

Hepatitis B: This type spreads through contact with infected bodily fluids including blood and semen. As such, the virus can pass from mother to child at birth, through sexual contact, sharing needles or via a blood transfusion.

Hepatitis C: In most cases, this virus spreads in much the same way hepatitis B does. According to the WHO, sexual contact does spread hepatitis C, though it is uncommon.

Hepatitis D: This virus can only come about in people who are already infected with hepatitis B. For this reason, it is considered a more dangerous form.

Hepatitis E: This virus is similar to hepatitis A in that it’s often transmitted through the consumption of contaminated food or water. The WHO reports that many outbreaks throughout the world can be linked to this strain. Vaccines are currently available to protect against hepatitis A and B (a vaccine exists for hepatitis E, but isn’t as widely available worldwide). At present, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, according to the WHO.

Symptoms

According to the National Institutes of Health, the most common symptoms include:

  • Jaundice
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach (including nausea and diarrhea)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Headaches

Treatment

Treatment is determined by the strain (A, B, C, D or E) and severity of each case. If left untreated, some forms can cause serious liver damage and can even be fatal. With hepatitis A and E, most people get better on their own with no intervention, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). This usually results in a full recovery of the liver. Hepatitis B may also be acute, meaning it requires no treatment.

For those who know they’ve been exposed to the virus, Mayo Clinic reports that receiving an injection of hepatitis B immune globulin within 24 hours of exposure can reduce the risk of developing the virus. Some cases of hepatitis B will clear on its own, but some will require antiviral medications or, in the most severe cases, a liver transplant. Hepatitis C can also be treated with antiviral drugs. In some cases, doctors may advise closely monitoring the liver over time as opposed to a direct treatment.

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