This year, World Hepatitis Day falls on July 28th. This is your chance to raise awareness for a disease that still impacts roughly 1 in 50 people in Europe, and we’re here to help you learn more about the five main strands of hepatitis.
So first of all, what is hepatitis?
Simply put, hepatitis refers to an inflammation of the liver usually caused by viral infection or liver damage. Although some cases can be mild, others can be chronic and cause serious further issues like liver scarring, loss of liver function and liver cancer.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis?
In cases of short term hepatitis, there may be no noticeable symptoms at all. If symptoms do occur, they might include muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, high temperature, lethargy, loss of appetite, stomach pain, itchiness, abnormally dark urine, abnormally pale faeces and a yellowing of the skin and eyes known as jaundice.
There may also be no obvious symptoms in cases of long term hepatitis until the liver itself stops working properly. Because of this, the condition is often only picked up through blood tests.
What are the different kinds of hepatitis?
The hepatitis A virus is spread through contaminated food and drink. This food and drink contains particles of excrement from an infected person, meaning your risk of acquiring the hepatitis A virus is much more common in countries with poor sanitation.
In most cases, the virus passes naturally within a few months. Aside from relieving symptoms like nausea, itching and pain, there is no specific treatment. However, travellers are encouraged to get vaccinated if planning a trip to areas where the virus is most common, like the Far East.
The hepatitis B virus is spread through blood-to-blood contact, where one set of blood belongs to an infected person. Because of this, it’s usually spread from pregnant women to their babies, from child-to-child contact, from unprotected sex and from sharing needles to inject drugs.
Most people who suffer from hepatitis B manage to fight off the virus and fully recover within two or three months, but those infected as children are much more likely to develop chronic hepatitis B. This is a long-term infection which can lead to liver scarring and even liver cancer. Antiviral medication is often prescribed to treat it. There are also vaccinations available in the UK.
The hepatitis C virus is the most common type of viral hepatitis in the UK. Like hepatitis B, it’s most commonly spread through blood-to-blood contact with an infected individual – in most cases through sharing needles to inject drugs.
Many people remain unaware that they are infected with hepatitis C as they are likely to experience no obvious symptoms. However, only one in four cases make a full recovery, with the rest having to deal with the virus for potentially tens of years.
Hepatitis C can be treated with antiviral medication, but there is currently no vaccination available.
The hepatitis D virus needs the hepatitis B virus in order to survive in the body, so it only affects current hepatitis B sufferers. When suffered alongside hepatitis B, it can increase your chances of suffering serious symptoms like liver scarring and liver cancer.
Although there is no vaccine for the virus, the hepatitis B vaccine can help protect you from it.
Cases of the hepatitis E virus have risen in recent years, making it now the most common cause of short term hepatitis in the UK. Although it’s most often a mild and short-term infection which doesn’t require treatment, it can be more serious in people with already weakened immune systems.
It’s thought that the virus is spread mainly through consuming certain raw or undercooked meats, like pork, offal, wild boar, shellfish and venison. Practising good food hygiene can significantly lower your risk of acquiring the virus, especially in parts of the world with poorer sanitation.
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