What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is a viral infection that leads to inflammation of the liver. The liver plays a crucial role in processing nutrients, filtering the blood, and fighting infections. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its proper functioning can be compromised. The condition can progress to fibrosis(scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer.
How is it spread?
● The virus can be ingested, even in microscopic amounts, through close personal contact with an infected person, or by consuming contaminated food or drink.
● Additionally, heavy alcohol use, exposure to toxins, certain medications, and specific medical conditions can also cause hepatitis.
● It can be spread when blood, semen, or other body fluids, even in small quantities, enter the body of an uninfected individual.
● Other transmission routes include birth to an infected pregnant person, sharing needles or syringes, sharing medical equipment like glucose monitors, and, although less commonly, sharing personal items such as toothbrushes or razors.
● Poor infection control in healthcare facilities and unregulated tattoos or body piercings with contaminated instruments can also contribute to the spread of the virus.
*It’s worth noting that although the virus can be found in saliva, it is not spread through activities such as kissing or sharing utensils.
● Loss of appetite
● Abdominal pain
● Dark urine
● Light-colored stools
● Joint pain
Types of Hepatitis:
In the United States, the most prevalent types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
Hepatitis A: Is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV) and is highly contagious. Commonly found in areas with poor sanitation and in the stool and blood of people who are infected. Symptoms can last up to two months, but most individuals with hepatitis A do not experience long-lasting illness. For Hep A there is preventable vaccine for liver infection.
Hepatitis B: Is a significant cause of liver cancer. The severity of hepatitis B can range from a mild illness that lasts a few weeks to a chronic condition that persists throughout a person’s life. For Hep B there is also a vaccine to prevent liver infection and it’s the most effective treatment.
Hepatitis C: Is curable in over 95% of cases. Alarmingly, nearly 40% of people with hepatitis C are unaware of their infection. In 2020, hepatitis C-associated deaths were highest among American Indian/Alaska Native and non-Hispanic Black individuals. Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver transplants and liver cancer. Similar to hepatitis B, it can vary from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a chronic infection, 80% to 85% individuals progress to a chronic infection developing chronic hepatitis C.
As stated above, vaccines are available for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. For Hepatitis B, doctors may also prescribe antiviral medications. There is no vaccine available for Hepatitis C nonetheless there is treatment that involves the use of direct-acting antiviral (DAA) tablets. These tablets are highly effective, with a success rate of clearing the infection in over 90% of people. The course of treatment typically lasts 8 to 12 weeks. Preventing hepatitis and its spread is of utmost importance for safeguarding public health.
By implementing preventive measures and ensuring access to testing, we can work together to reduce the incidence of hepatitis and protect the health and well-being of individuals and communities worldwide. Remember, early detection and appropriate medical care are vital in managing and treating hepatitis effectively.
Stay informed, take proactive steps, and encourage others to do the same, promoting a healthier future for all.
Authors: Keysha Pomales Pharm.D.