Everything you need to know about hepatitis


According to data recorded by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2016, with an estimated 40 million people suffering from chronic Hepatitis B and six to 12 million people are infected with Hepatitis C, Hepatitis or inflammation of the liver has become one of the pressing public health concerns in India. Not just that, viral Hepatitis caused by Hepatitis Viruses especially B and C results in a whopping economic and social burden on the affected individuals and their families. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The condition can be self-limiting or progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer.

There are mainly two categories of viral hepatitis:

1. Hepatitis A and E

2. Hepatitis C and B


Hepatitis A:

Hepatitis A is a viral illness causing liver swelling or inflammation. It is passed on when an uninfected person consumes food or water that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person. Most infections are passed on through close personal contact with an infected household member. It is usually a self-limiting illness causing symptoms like mild fever, body ache, fatigue, yellow discolouration of eyes and urine and sometimes itching. The symptoms can last for a few weeks and the jaundice gradually subsides without any long term complications. It does not need any specific treatment. The treatment includes supportive care and good nutritious diet. In rare cases it can cause a serious condition called acute liver failure which includes hampered blood clotting and drowsiness. Acute liver failure needs immediate hospitalisation, ICU care and may need an urgent liver transplantation in some cases.

Hence prevention is the best approach.Eating well cooked fresh, warm hygienic food and good personal hygiene including hand washing before eating food are the most important preventive steps.A vaccine is also available for prevention of Hepatitis A.

Hepatitis E:

It is similar to Hepatitis A but can be more severe. It can particularly cause severe disease including Acute Liver Failure in pregnant women. There is no vaccine available as of now for Hepatitis as of now. Hence strict precautions as outlined in section for Hepatitis A need to be followed for prevention.

Hepatitis B:

Hepatitis B is a viral illness affecting the liver. Unlike Hepatitis A and E, it more often than not remains in the liver of the infected individuals for a long time. In most cases it just stays in the liver without causing injury or damage. Such individuals are called inactive carriers. But in some patients, the virus causes liver injury which can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis (permanent structural liver damage) and even liver cancer. It is important to identify whether a particular patient is an inactive carrier or has active disease. This can be done by a doctor by clinically examining and reviewing certain test reports. Hence it is important to consult a doctor and get yourself evaluated. Effective treatment is available for Hepatitis B and is needed usually over a long term. Hepatitis B can be transmitted through contact with body fluids like semen, vaginal fluids, and blood. It can pass from a mother to a new-born during delivery, during blood transfusion, sharing needles and having unprotected sex.

An effective vaccine is available for Hepatitis B and is now included in the universal vaccination schedule for children

Hepatitis C:

The mode of transmission of Hepatitis C is similar to Hepatitis B and it also causes a chronic liver illness that can progress to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Very effective oral medications are now available for CURE of Hepatitis C and have to be taken for a finite duration of 3-6 months. It is important to identify the patients of Hepatitis C in early stage of the disease and treat them before permanent damage has occurred in the liver.

Take note of these symptoms:

Fatigue, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or discomfort, loss of appetite, dark urine, joint pain, yellowing of the skin, sore muscles, itchy skin, and joint pain are some of the common symptoms that one may exhibit. Once you notice the symptoms, immediately consult your doctor who will suggest a proper line of treatment.

Take-home message:

Hepatitis A and E can be prevented using simple measures. It is important to get tested for Hepatitis B and C. If negative, vaccine for Hepatitis B needs to be taken. If positive, consult doctor immediately for effective and timely treatment.


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