Viral hepatitis is the most common cause of hepatitis. It is inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis virus named A, B, C, D and E. All these viruses present clinically in a very similar fashion, especially in the acute phase of illness
Hepatitis A and E are transmitted by the faeco-oral route, therefore the prevalence is high in developing countries where hygiene is poor and waterborne and foodborne epidemics are common. Both hepatitis A and E viruses are not associated with chronic infection. Hepatitis A is usually self limiting. But Hepatitis E can induce a fulminating hepatitis with mortality 0.5-4%, particularly in pregnant women where the mortality may reach about 80 %
The Hepatitis B, C and D viruses are transmitted via infected blood and blood products. These can cause chronic hepatitis, in which the infection is prolonged, sometimes life-long . Although the modes of transmission are the same , the difference lies in the chance of acquiring the infection through sexual transmission and vertical transmission(infected mother to child), which are high in case of hepatitis B as compared to hepatitis C. A specific diagnosis about the type of hepatitis infection can only be made in the laborator with the help of simple blood tests.
In Hepatitis B, 90-95 % adults clear the virus from their body within 6 months, 5-10 % go on to develop chronic hepatitis B. Young children of upto 5 years of age have a 50 % chance to clear the virus in the acute stage, while 90% of babies cannot clear the virus if they get it from their infected mothers at the time of the birth. Patients who are unable to clear the virus in 6 months progress into the chronic stage of hepatitis B, which slowly damages the liver over many years.This is why many patients with HBV are asymptomatic
Hepatitis C, in 15% of cases the infection is acute, meaning the virus is cleared by the body in less than 6 months. Unfortunately, in 85% of cases, the infection becomes chronic and damage the liver silently over the years.
Complications: Chronic hepatitis B and C infection can cause cirrhosis(or scarring ) of the liver, end-stage liver disease and some types of liver cancer
Treatment is available for chronic Hepatitis B and C infection depending on the stage of the disease. Hepatitis A and E are usually self limiting and require symptom relief
Vaccination: There is a vaccine for Hepatitis B. Infants should get the first shot within 12 hours after birth, second shot at age 1 to 2 months and third shot between 6 and 18 months. Older children and adults can also get the vaccine, three shots are given over 6 months. You need all the shots to be protected. Unfortunately there is NO VACCINE for hepatitc C
Interesting facts about hepatitis B and C
It is important to know that Hepatitis B,C and D are not spread by sneezing, coughing, food or water ,sharing drinking glasses or eating utensils, handshakes, hugging or kissing on the cheek, playing with children
Tips for your Safety
- Wash hands before injecting, do not share needles
- Cover any open cuts or wounds
- Use of barriers and condoms will help reduce risk of sexual transmission
- During pregnancy it is important to test for hepatitis B and C infection due to risk of transmission of infection from mother to baby(more with Hepatitis B compared to C)
- Do not share razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers or pierced earrings.
- Make sure tattoo and piercing equipment package is opened up in front of you
Who is at risk?
Although anyone can get hepatitis B and C, some people are at greater risk such as
- Have received blood transfusion
- Blood exposure at work(health care professionals)
- Infants born to infected mothers
- Living with a person who has chronic hepatitis B
- Inject drugs or share needles,syringes
- Homosexual, multiple sexual partners, have STD