The ABC's of Hepatitis

Thanks to the development of vaccines, many of us see hepatitis as a thing of the past. However, there is still a strong presence of the disease both nationally and internationally.

Hepatitis, or a disease causing inflammation of the liver, is categorized into two different groups (acute and chronic).
  • Acute: A brief infection (6 months or less) that goes away because the body gets rid of the virus.
  • Chronic: This is a long-term infection (greater than 6 months) that happens when your body can’t get rid of the virus. This type of hepatitis infection often causes long-term liver damage.
Hepatitis also has 5 distinct types:
Hepatitis D can only be contracted if you already have the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Whereas hepatitis E is very similar to hepatitis A, it is contracted through infected fecal to oral contamination, but it is less common than hepatitis A. To better understand hepatitis in its entirety, let’s take a closer look at the main three types.

Causes: Hepatitis A is most commonly caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). The virus most often spread through infected food or water that has been contaminated by infected stool. It can also spread from person to person if someone has infected stool on them or through sexual intercourse with an infected person.

Prevalence & Severity: Hepatitis A typically runs its course without any treatments or long-term problems, making it an acute condition. It can last anywhere from several weeks to 6 months. The prevalence of hepatitis A is difficult to measure as it is typically asymptomatic (no symptoms) and goes away on its own.

Symptoms: Fever, tiredness/weakness, pain in the stomach or liver area, loss of appetite, nausea, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), itchy skin, dark urine and light colored stools.

Prevention & Treatment: While there is no specific treatment for hepatitis A, experts recommend treating the condition like the flu, including drinking lots of fluids and getting plenty of rest. There is a hepatitis A vaccine which is strongly recommended as well as practicing healthful hygiene habits.

Causes: Hepatitis B is caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus is most often spread when you come into contact with an infected person’s: blood, semen, vaginal secretions and saliva.

Prevalence & Severity: For those with hepatitis B, 90 percent will recover without any treatment; some may develop a chronic infection. The infection will most likely last 6 months or less. The prevalence of hepatitis B is higher than other types with approximately 2 billion people having been infected worldwide (1 out of 3 people).  

Symptoms: Loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue, fever, muscle soreness, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes), dark urine, light colored stools, belly or abdominal pain, diarrhea and easy bleeding or bruising.

Prevention & Treatment: Hepatitis B is most commonly left untreated, but in some cases you may require prescription medication. There is currently a vaccine to prevent hepatitis B.

Causes: Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The virus is spread through exposure to HCV infected blood. This can be from an infected needle or sharing personal care toiletry items (e.g., razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers…etc.).

Prevalence & Severity: Those infected with HCV or hepatitis C, 75 to 85 percent will develop a chronic infection. A chronic HCV infection can be quite serious causing cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. In the U.S. there are roughly 4 million people who have chronic hepatitis C and thousands with acute hepatitis C.

Symptoms: Many will not notice symptoms until liver disease develops years later. Some common symptoms are similar to those of the flu (e.g., fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea…etc.), tenderness in the upper right abdomen, jaundice, itching and dark urine.

Prevention & Treatment: In order to treat hepatitis C, you will have to work with your physician to find the right medications. Some may not require medication or treatment. In addition, alcohol and other medications that can strain the liver should be avoided. There is no vaccine currently available to prevent hepatitis C, but practicing good habits will help keep others safe.  

Hepatitis may not feel like a common disease, but by knowing the causes, prevalence, severity and symptoms you are better able to ensure your safety as well as others. If you believe you may have been exposed to the hepatitis virus, be sure to talk with your physician to avoid spreading it to others. At Gwinnett Medical Center our physicians and specialists can provide thorough care for hepatitis, with vaccines, diagnostics and effective treatment options.


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