By Diane Forrest,
Today is World Hepatitis Day. The purpose of this day is to make you aware of hepatitis, what it is, how you can get it, and ways to treat and prevent it. Hepatitis is swelling and inflammation in the liver. Hepatitis can be acute, meaning lasting less than 6 months, or chronic, lasting 6 months and longer.
There are several types of Hepatitis:
Hepatitis A found mostly in the stools and blood of an infected person about 15 - 45 days before symptoms occur and during the first week of illness.
You can catch hepatitis A if:
- You eat or drink food or water that has been contaminated by stools (feces) containing the hepatitis A virus (fruits, vegetables, shellfish, ice, and water are common sources of the hepatitis A virus)
- You come in contact with the stool or blood of a person who currently has the disease
- A person with hepatitis A does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the bathroom and touches other objects or food
- You participate in sexual practices that involve oral-anal contact
Hepatitis B can be spread through having contact with the blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and other body fluids of someone who already has a hepatitis B infection.
Infection can be spread through:
Blood transfusions (not common in the United States)
Direct contact with blood in health care settings
Sexual contact with an infected person
Tattoo or acupuncture with unclean needles or instruments
Shared needles during drug use
Shared personal items (such as toothbrushes, razors, and nail clippers) with an infected person
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It is transfered from someone who has the virus.
- Infections from viruses (such as hepatitis A, B, or C), bacteria, or parasites
- Liver damage from alcohol, poisonous mushrooms, or other poisons
- Medications, such as an overdose of acetaminophen, which can be deadly
- Abdominal pain or distention
- Breast development in males
- Dark urine and pale or clay-colored stools
- Fever, usually low-grade
- General itching
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
Diagnosing is done by physical exam and blood testing such as liver function tests.
For Hepatitis A and B there is no specific treatment. Avoid alcohol and other toxins such as acetaminophen. The body will recover anywhere from3 to 6 months usually without any permanent damage. For Hepatitis C there are several medications that can be prescribed for treatment. For more severe cases a liver transplant may be required.
- A vaccine is available and is highly recommended for people who are in high risk profession such as health care and other service related fields.
- Always wash your hands after using the bathroom and especially before preparing foods.
- Limit use of alcohol and drugs toxic to the liver
- Be aware of food preparation while traveling in other countries
- Be alert when coming in contact with blood and other body fluids.