text-size: + - R

Rx News

Knowledege about Hepatitis

May 7, 2014

What is hepatitis? Hepatitis means an inflammation of the liver. It can be caused by one of many things — including a bacterial infection, liver injury caused by a toxin (poison), and even an attack on the liver by the body's own immune system. The liver is one of the body's most prominent dynamos. It helps process nutrients and metabolizes medicines. The liver also helps clear the body of toxic waste products. Hepatitis usually is caused by a virus. The three most common hepatitis viruses are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C. Hepatitis viruses can transform to a new strand of virus. This makes them hard for the body to fight because they change over time.

People usually get hepatitis A by eating food or drinking water that's been contaminated with feces. As disgusting as that sounds, though, hepatitis A is actually considered less destructive than some other hepatitis viruses. Unlike some other hepatitis viruses, hepatitis A rarely leads to permanent liver damage. Within a few weeks, the symptoms will have gone away by themselves, and the virus will no longer be in a person's system. Once someone has recovered from a hepatitis A infection, that person has immunity to the virus, meaning they will probably never have it again.

Hepatitis B is a more serious infection. It may lead to a condition called cirrhosis (permanent scarring of the liver) or liver cancer, both of which cause severe illness and even death. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is transmitted from person to person through blood or other body fluids. In the United States, the most common way people get infected with HBV is through unprotected sex with someone who has the disease. There's no effective cure for hepatitis B, although people who have had the hepatitis B vaccine are protected against it. In most cases, teens that get hepatitis B will recover from the disease and may develop a natural immunity to future hepatitis B infections.

Hepatitis C is the most serious type of hepatitis. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is transmitted from person to person through blood or other body fluids. Like hepatitis B, hepatitis C can also lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. An estimated 4.1 million Americans are currently infected with the virus. The most common way people become infected is through sharing drug paraphernalia such as needles and straws. People also get hepatitis C after having unprotected sex with an infected partner. Sometimes, mothers with hepatitis C pass the virus along to their babies during birth.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms? Hepatitis infection causes inflammation of the liver, which means that the liver becomes swollen and damaged and begins losing its ability to function. People with hepatitis often get symptoms similar to those caused by other virus infections, such as weakness, tiredness, and nausea.

Symptoms of hepatitis include:

  • nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite
  • yellowing of the skin and eyes, known as jaundice
  • fever
  • dark-colored urine
  • abdominal pain (on the upper right side)
  • light-colored bowel movements

How does one treat hepatitis? Doctors don't prescribe medicine to treat hepatitis A; they usually recommend resting until any fever and jaundice are gone and the person's appetite has returned to normal. It is also important to stay well hydrated by drinking lots of fluids. Hepatitis B and C can sometimes be treated with medicines, although some kinds of medicine used to treat hepatitis C are only approved for use in adults. Although treatments for hepatitis B and C are becoming more effective, a cure cannot be guaranteed.

How can I protect myself? Most vaccines can protect people against hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Today, all kids in the United States are routinely vaccinated against hepatitis B at birth and against hepatitis A when they're between 1 and 2 years old. It's important for people who travel to parts of the world where sanitation isn't very good to be immunized. Doctors also recommend the vaccine for anyone who is more at risk of getting hepatitis A, like people with blood clotting disorders or liver disease, or who use intravenous drugs. If someone has been recently exposed to hepatitis A or B, a doctor may recommend a shot of immune globulin containing antibodies against the virus. This can help prevent the person from coming down with the disease.

In addition to getting vaccinations against hepatitis A and B, here's how to protect yourself against hepatitis virus infection:

  • Don't have unprotected sex.
  • Avoid eating raw shellfish (such as clams or oysters). You could put yourself at risk for hepatitis A if the shellfish was harvested from contaminated water.
  • Avoid intravenous drug use and sharing of drug paraphernalia.
  • Don't share toothbrushes or razors. Hepatitis can be transmitted through sores or cuts.
  • Wash your hands before handling food and after using the bathroom.
  • Be sure tattoo or piercing shops sterilize needles and other equipment properly.

Health Resources