What is Hepatitis?

The Liver is one of the most important and largest organs of the human body. Its function is to store vitamins, glucose, detoxify [flush out unwanted substances like alcohol] and helps digestion. Any abnormality in the liver cells cause obstruction in the function of the liver and this condition is known as Hepatitis. The word Hepatitis is an all enveloping term that is symptomatic of inflammation, irritation or swelling of the liver.

Hepatitis can be acute or chronic. Acute Hepatitis is short term and lasts less than six months. Chronic Hepatitis lasts for a longer period. It is due to a group of five Hepatitis viruses. All of them infect the liver and cause inflammation. The time period of the inflammation and how severe the infection will be is decided by the causation virus.

Is Hepatitis infectious and contagious?

Hepatitis can be both infectious and non infectious depending upon the type of Hepatitis and its mode of transmission. This condition is caused by the presence of toxic or harmful substances in the liver which are not flushed out and remain in the liver thus causing inflammation of the liver cells due to excessive storage.

The following persons are at high risk of infection.

  • Travellers to developing countries where the incidence of infection is high
  • Male to male sex, including oral and anal
  • Drug Users who take intravenous injections
  • Person who come into contact with waste disposal and sewage
  • Person who works with animals, such as apes and monkeys
  • People who live in crowded conditions with poor sanitation
What are the types of Hepatitis?

The types of Hepatitis are Hepatitis A (mostly caused from eating seafood from contaminated waters), Hepatitis B (spreads through sex), Hepatitis C (through contaminated blood transfusions and unhygienic needles), Hepatitis D (a more serious for of Hepatitis B) and Hepatitis E (spread through faecal contamination).

Hepatitis A and E are the most common in countries like Africa, India, Mexico and Asian countries whereas Hepatitis B, C and D are found in the US. Whatever the type, they all affect the liver cells and cause it to obstruct the functions of the liver. The point of difference is the mode of transmission and the causes. Hepatitis can affect anyone.

What are the causes?

The causes of different types of Hepatitis include:

  • Caused by contaminated food and water
  • Anal and oral sex
  • Unhygienic restaurants and places
  • Contamination by faeces.
What are the signs and symptoms of Hepatitis?

The common signs and symptoms include:

  • Jaundice where the eyes and skin appear yellow.
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of Appetite
How is Hepatitis diagnosed?

Presence of the above symptoms will determine the condition of Hepatitis. In addition antibody and antigen blood tests may be required. Blood tests to check any other underlying condition also may be done. High risk group like HIV positive, alcoholics and intravenous drug users, pregnant women, same sex [men] partners have to undergo regular testing. Sometimes a liver biopsy may be suggested.

Can Hepatitis be cured?

Most of the Hepatitis like Hepatitis A, B, C and E are acute or short term in nature and resolve on their own over a period of time. Severe cases of Hepatitis need medication as advised by the doctor. There is no cure, only the symptoms can be managed and vaccination for Hepatitis can help prevent the outbreak of Hepatitis.

Can Hepatitis be prevented?

Hepatitis can be effectively prevented by Vaccination. Hepatitis A, B and E and their severe forms can be prevented by administering the vaccines at the age recommended for children (at birth and at 6 months - 18 years of age) and adults (3 doses with the first at anytime, second after one month later and the thirst 6 months after the first).

Most of the Hepatitis is due to sedentary lifestyle and making certain healthy changes to the lifestyle can effectively curb the outbreak of Hepatitis. Maintaining good hygiene, eating clean and well cooked food, and washing of hands before eating and after going to the toilet are certain steps which help avoid Hepatitis.

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