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World Hepatitis Day

 

Every year, on July 28, we aim to spread awareness about viral hepatitis, which impacts more than 354 million people worldwide. This important day is World Hepatitis Day, which is also Dr Baruch Blumberg’s birthday, the physician who discovered the hepatitis B virus and developed the first vaccine for it.

In our mission to educate our audience about the potentially serious infection, we’d like to share this article, which provides an overview of what hepatitis is, the different types, the method of transmission, symptoms, and testing for the virus.

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a term used to describe inflammation of the liver. An inflamed liver means the tissues are swollen, which can ultimately result in liver damage. This swelling and damage can affect how your liver functions.

Viral infections are the most common cause of hepatitis. However, there are other causes of the disease. Hepatitis can either be a short-term or long-term infection. The duration of the illness depends on the type of hepatitis you have.

What are the different types of hepatitis?

There are many types of hepatitis, each of which has different effects on the body. The different types include: 

  • Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E: Viral hepatitis is caused by an infection that attacks the liver. Acute viral hepatitis usually goes away on its own. But more severe forms of hepatitis can cause chronic or long-term infection.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis: Inflammation of the liver caused by heavy alcohol use over many years. This inflammation leads to liver cell damage and cell death, which results in scarring – known as cirrhosis of the liver. While scarring of the liver is permanent, the liver can repair some of the damage caused by alcohol once a person stops drinking.
  • Toxic hepatitis: Results from liver inflammation caused by certain substances, such as alcohol, chemicals, drugs, or nutritional supplements. Symptoms often go away once exposure to the toxin stops.
  • Autoimmune hepatitis: A rare form of hepatitis in which your body’s immune system attacks your liver. The cause of this type of hepatitis is unknown. It’s a long-term chronic liver disease.

In this article, we’ll mainly focus on hepatitis B and C since they’re the most common hepatitis infections in the world.

Hepatitis B is an infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The infection can be chronic for some people, which means it lasts more than six months. People with chronic hepatitis B have an increased risk of developing liver failure, liver cancer, or cirrhosis.

Children and infants are more likely to suffer from chronic hepatitis B, while most adults have a full recovery, even with severe symptoms. A vaccine can prevent the infection, but once you have it, there’s no cure. However, the virus can be controlled with oral antiviral agents. This treatment can reduce the risk of developing more serious liver disease.

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Like with hepatitis B, most people with hepatitis C experience short-term illness. And people with chronic illness from hepatitis C can have the same complications as those with chronic hepatitis B.

While there are treatments you can take to control the infection, there’s no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. So, it’s important to avoid the behaviours that can spread the disease (which we’ll discuss in the next section).

How do I catch hepatitis?

Hepatitis B infection can pass from person to person through blood, saliva, semen, or other bodily fluids. Therefore, HBV can be spread by sharing needles and sexual contact with an infected person. Pregnant women with HBV can also spread the virus to their babies through childbirth. However, in almost all cases, the newborn can get a vaccine to prevent infection.

Hepatitis C is primarily spread by contact with contaminated blood. So, you can contract hepatitis C by simply sharing needles or from unsterile tattoo equipment. While it’s not common for hepatitis C to be transmitted through sexual activity, it is possible. Your risk of contracting hepatitis C may increase if you have sex with multiple partners, already have an STI, or engage in anal sex.

How do I know if I have hepatitis?

If you’re worried that you’ve contracted hepatitis, there are a few signs to look out for. First, however, it’s important to note that you may not notice any symptoms in the first week after infection, known as the acute phase.

Symptoms often appear weeks later. If you have hepatitis A, B, or C, symptoms may include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Mild fever
  • Poor appetite
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)

If you have hepatitis B or C, and the infection becomes chronic, you may experience symptoms for years. On the other hand, many people don’t experience any symptoms. As a result, hepatitis often goes undiagnosed because some people don’t feel ill and remain symptom-free for years. Often, when symptoms do develop (sometimes years later), the liver may already be damaged.

And because the symptoms of hepatitis can be mild or mimic other diseases, it can be tricky to detect. Therefore, it’s important to regularly get tested for the disease if you share needles with others, have unprotected sex, or regularly have contact with potentially infected blood products (i.e. if you’re a healthcare provider).

Also, visit your GP to rule out infection at the first sign of illness. And if you are infected with the virus, getting treatment as early as possible is best. Early treatment can reduce the risk of potential complications, such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure.

Hepatitis: Outlook

While viral hepatitis can be a potentially serious disease, most people fully recover, although it may take several months for the liver to heal. If the disease does become chronic, those living with chronic hepatitis B infection should expect to live a long and healthy life if they get treatment.

Of course, prevention is best. That’s why we want to spread awareness about how to prevent hepatitis with vaccinations and smart lifestyle choices. To stay on top of your sexual health, you can use one of our STI kits, which test for various sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including hepatitis B and C. Choose your kit today to get peace of mind without a trip to the clinic. Need support and advice? Check out this page.

 

Yoxly's Awesome Contributors (YACs) are a diverse group of individuals who are passionate about public health, and committed to furthering our mission. Yoxly provides a platform where a variety of sexual health topics (some more awkward than others!) can be explored, in an informative and non-judgmental way. If you'd like to become one of Yoxly's Awesome Contributors, contact us!

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