World Hepatitis Day is July 28th and serves as a great excuse to become educated about this disease. Prior to writing this article, I knew very little about this virus. Here are some things I learned.
There are three main types of hepatitis: A, B, and C. All three variations of the virus affect the liver through inflammation, but they are all spread and treated differently.
Hepatitis A is typically the least intense of the three. Hepatitis A usually doesn’t lead to any long-term infections, and the liver typically heals within two months of being infected without specific medicine. You can catch the virus by eating or drinking items infected with the virus, but it can be prevented with a vaccine.
People infected with acute Hepatitis B usually recover within a few to six months, but Hepatitis B can become chronic in some patients. You can catch the virus by exchanging blood, semen, and vaginal fluids with someone. Hepatitis B can be spread through sexual contact, through coming in contact with someone’s blood who is infected by using something such as a razor or toothbrush, or by sharing needles, including unclean tattoo and piercing needles. Hepatitis B can also be passed onto babies during childbirth if their mother is infected. While there is no specific medicine for treatment, Hepatitis B can be prevented through vaccination.
Hepatitis B becomes chronic if someone is infected for longer than six months. Babies are more likely to have chronic Hepatitis B than adults, and chronic Hepatitis B can be treated with drugs.
Hepatitis C is most commonly spread through coming in contact with the blood of an infected person. Hepatitis C can be spread through sharing needles, getting tattooed or pierced with an unclean needle, or by unclean blood transfusions. Half of patients infected with Hepatitis C may develop chronic Hepatitis C, which can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), or even liver failure. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C.
It has been noted that the effects of chronic Hepatitis C often hit men harder than women. It’s believed that estrogen levels in women help prevent severe cases of cirrhosis, while men often are affected more poignantly. Chronic Hepatitis C can be treated with drugs.
Diagnosing Hepatitis can be tricky because the symptoms often show up after someone has already been infected for several months. Symptoms include dark urine, stomach pain, yellow skin or eyes, pale feces, a low fever, loss of appetite and fatigue, and feeling sick to your stomach.
See your healthcare provider if you notice any of these symptoms or if you think there’s a chance you’ve been exposed to the virus. If you have been diagnosed, you should notify all sexual partners and practice safe sex. You should also notify anyone you live with so they can be sure to prevent the infection. You should also stop drinking alcohol during your time of recovery.
In most cases, people are able to recover fairly quickly from this virus, but it’s important to be vaccinated to prevent the disease and take serious precautions if you know someone who is infected. When in doubt, see your healthcare provider and ask for a blood test to see if you are infected.