The most common cause of hepatitis is viral hepatitis.
1. What is hepatitis? What are the differences between the types of hepatitis?
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. The most common cause of hepatitis is viral hepatitis, consisting of virus types A, B, C, D, and E.
Hepatitis A is primarily transmitted through contaminated food and water. The contamination occurs when the virus travels out of an infected person in their feces, and gets into the community’s water system. It is less commonly transmitted through sex. It causes an acute infection that’s self-limited, meaning the virus will run its course without causing chronic infection. “Most infected people get over the illness without a serious issue. There are very few deaths unless one has a compromised immune system”, says Dr. Lefkowitz.
Hepatitis B is transmitted through body fluids like semen and blood, and through infected mothers to their babies during birth. “This type can cause both and acute and chronic illness, and twenty-five percent of people who develop a chronic infection, if left untreated will develop liver disease, cirrhosis, or liver cancer”, says Dr. Lefkowitz. Ninety-five percent of infants who are born with Hepatitis B transmitted from an infected mother, will develop chronic infection. Dr. Lefkowitz emphasizes this is the reason babies receive their initial hepatitis B vaccination right after birth.
Hepatitis C is transmitted through body fluids like semen and blood, with blood being the biggest risk. Hepatitis C can also be transmitted through infected mothers to their babies during birth, but less commonly than hepatitis B. “Seventy percent of the people who get acute hepatitis C will develop chronic infection; of those, fifteen to twenty percent, if left untreated will develop severe liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver cancer”, says Dr. Lefkowitz.
2. What are the symptoms?
Acute hepatitis symptoms include fever, body aches, and nausea/vomiting. More liver specific symptoms are jaundice, light to clay-colored stool, and dark urine. Hepatitis A is notorious for causing diarrhea.
However, Dr. Lefkowitz state “Patients with acute hepatitis A, B, and C sometimes don’t show symptoms, people with hepatitis C are usually unaware they’re infected with the virus.”
3. What can people do to prevent getting viral hepatitis?
Stay up to date on the Hepatitis A and B vaccines. Practice safe sex, like using condoms, and avoid sharing needles.
4. Is there any way for hepatitis to be treated?
Hepatitis A is self-limited, and will pass after the virus runs its course.
Hepatitis B has treatments but there isn’t a cure.
Hepatitis C has treatments for acute and severe cases, and most patients can be cured with treatments developed in the last ten years.Because of the higher risk of developing chronic problems from Hepatitis C, and the potential for cure, it is recommended those at risk for hepatitis C obtain lab testing to see if they have active infection.