All You Need to Know about Hepatitis: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention
I admit, the first time I heard the name mentioned (which was some 15 years ago or so) I didn’t know what it was.
Hepatitis? Is that a Mexican cuisine?
And since the name didn’t sound very frightening then, I quickly forgot about it.
But now, the statistics are frightening and I’m worried. And you should be, too, with the present global estimate of hepatitis cases standing at well over 300 million.
Definitely, this must be one of the meanest health conditions there is.
What Is Hepatitis? All You Need to Know about Hepatitis
Hepatitis is a disease that attack and destroy the liver. It is a condition where the liver is inflamed.
There are multiple factors that can cause this disease in a person.
These include secondary result of some medications, alcohol abuse, erratic function of the immune system (autoimmune disease), toxin, viral infection, as well as poor hygiene.
This disease is very malignant, and can often lead to further severe conditions when not properly treated.
It can progress to fibrosis, cirrhosis or liver cancer.
The global annual deaths from hepatitis is put at about 1.3 million people (more than diseases like AIDS/HIVS and tuberculosis), writes worldhepatitisday.com.
What Can Cause Hepatitis?
Well, that depends. Though it is mainly a viral disease, there are other probable sources of infections.
These include autoimmune hepatitis and hepatitis that occurs as side effects or adverse reactions to some medications, toxins from external agents, and alcohol abuse.
Autoimmune hepatitis is a condition arising from the abnormal functioning of the body’s immune system.
What happens is that the immune system, for some inexplicable reasons, begins to produce antibodies that attacks the healthy liver tissue.
There are 5 types of hepatitis diseases, and each one is caused by an entirely different virus.
The known types are classified as hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E, and each one of them is caused by a different virus.
This can by receiving blood from an infected donor, invasive medical procedures using unsterilized and contaminated tools (needles, syringes, blades, etc.).
Typically, hepatitis B is transmitted from mother to baby at birth and can also be transmitted sexually.
What’re The Associated Symptoms?
Symptoms of hepatitis are many and varied.
They can range from jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, and vomiting to abdominal pain, loss of appetite and mild fever.
Hepatitis is contagious, and can pass from person to person via bodily fluids and blood.
These are the regular symptoms associated with hepatitis cases.
But if the infection is advanced (exceeding a 3-month period), the symptoms associated with chronic liver disease will begin to manifest.
Often this is a critical stage of liver infection.
But interesting is the fact that, unlike most diseases, hepatitis infection may occur with limited or no symptoms at the initial stage.
So you may not know that you have the diseases until it is at an advanced stage and your liver has been affected.
You and Your Liver
The liver serves many functions in the body.
It helps in elimination of toxic chemicals from the body and the production of vital proteins that the body needs.
The liver is also important for food digestion.
Therefore, life would be impossible without the liver.
When the liver is severely damaged, the individual’s body would be loaded with harmful chemicals that would otherwise have been eliminated by a healthy liver.
This is why people with failed liver tend to appear bloated.
So it is of utmost importance that you take deliberate steps aimed at protecting your liver from damage.
A healthy liver is essential to maintaining a healthy life. Treating hepatitis when it has come to this stage can be quite challenging, and even then.
There are no guarantees. Sometimes, a liver transplant may be required, and we know that’s a different matter altogether.
It is a very expensive procedure and it’s not always easy finding a viable donor.
A Global Concern
Hepatitis is a global concern, and international agencies and governments are constantly sponsoring research on how to counter its spread.
Massive sensitization campaign is also carried out on hepatitis, costing tens of millions of dollars every year.
The United Nations has also designated a special day to focus the world’s attention on this scourge.
The reason for this increased concern is understandable, as the outbreak of this disease seems to be on the rise.
Of note are the types B and C hepatitis, being the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.
Chronic hepatitis can attack the liver over an extended period of years without causing major symptoms. But if the infection is not diagnosed and treated early, this will develop into more serious complications like liver failure.
Often, where there’s liver problem, hepatitis could be the green snake in the grass.
Hepatitis A can be severe. But it’s usually short term, easier to manage. Often, it is mild and many people may not even know that they are infected. The virus can expire subsequently without causing any long-term damage.
This type of hepatitis can be termed as ‘child’s play’. Not so for types B, C and D hepatitis. Now these guys are the ‘Real McCoy’.
They can be recurring and are very chronic. Hepatitis E is usually acute and very dangerous especially in pregnant women.
How Can I Prevent Hepatitis?
Hepatitis A is inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). You can take several steps to prevent catching or spreading this virus. Important steps to take include the following:
1. Maintain Proper Hygiene
To reduce your risk of exposure to HAV, ensure you maintain the strictest hygienic standards. This will be even more important where there’s been a previous case of infection.
Wash your hands thoroughly and use a hand sanitizer after going to the toilet. This also goes for when you clean up babies when they poo.
Wash your hands again. Also do the same when you visit a hospital or nursing home, or when you come in direct contact with a sick person.
2. Avoid Contaminated Foods And Water
As mentioned, hepatitis can spread through contaminated food and water. Therefore, be sure that your food is clean, prepared under verifiably hygienic environment, and your water is pure, not polluted.
In many villages in undeveloped countries, they use the same source of water for everything – cooking, washing and bathing. Sometimes, fecal materials even find their way into the water source.
Environments such as these are prone to outbreak of several infectious diseases, including hepatitis.
Drinking clean water is paramount to prevent hepatitis virus infection. If you’re not sure about the water, then boil it before drinking.
If not, don’t drink it at all. Foods like meat and fish should be cooked thoroughly to avoid infection.
Also, fruits should be washed before you eat them. If you can, wash your fruits yourself.
Don’t eat at public or street side restaurants, if you doubt the hygienic standards.
3. Avoid Alcohol, Drugs and Needles
If you want to keep infectious diseases far from you, then you have to avoid alcohol and drug intake.
They would compromise the health of your liver. Every pint of alcohol you drink goes right down to your liver and interrupts its smooth function.
If you’ve been a heavy drinker for years, then the more prone you are to developing hepatitis. Same goes for using banned substances. It increases your risk of an infection.
Also be mindful of the prescription drugs that you take from time to time.
Some common medications have been shown to have negative effect on the liver over long usage.
And if you’re into sharp objects like syringes, blades and needles for whatever reason, be sure that they are properly sterilized.
The hepatitis virus can spread through such means, just like the HIV and EVD.
4. And Unprotected Sex
That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Having unprotected sex is unthinkable for any sane adult in the kind of world that we live in.
Viruses capable of killing you are everywhere, why would you risk your life by having unprotected sex with anyone?
Hepatitis virus is present in bodily fluids, blood and even semen.
So the chances of infection are great if you sleep with an infected person.
At least, be sure of the status of your partner, and maintain mutual fidelity. That way, you and your partner are both safe.
5. Taking Proactive Steps
You take proactive steps by getting vaccinated before an infection.
You may need to get the hepatitis A vaccine, just to be on the safe side.
This will be even more important if you’ve been exposed to an infection.
Have you been in contact with someone infected? Perhaps you live with them, share things in common?
Or maybe you’ve had sex with an infected person? You need to get vaccinated. Don’t wait until you begin to feel sick.
Hepatitis A vaccines are recommended for all children between 1 and 2 years of age, and for adults who work in locations with high prevalence of hepatitis infection.
Caregivers who attend to the sick also need to get the vaccination.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis type C, but type A vaccination can also serve to protect against hepatitis types B and C.
In maternal cases, if the mother has chronic hepatitis B, the infant is usually administered hepatitis B vaccine and hepatitis B immune globulin.
This will help to prevent the development of chronic hepatitis B afterwards.
Adhering to these simple but basic health standards can save your life.
Taking preventive measures will ensure that you and your loved ones are safe from any kinds of infections.
Hepatitis Fact Check
Let us consider the following facts concerning hepatitis virus:
- The initial symptoms following hepatitis infection may be different for people. Some people may show no symptoms while others may quickly become symptomatic.
- Hepatitis may be acute or chronic, depending on whether it lasts for more than 6 months on the infected person.
- Hepatitis is ten times more infectious than HIV/AIDS.
- 80% of people infected with hepatitis may not even realize that they have it, until it is at an advanced stage!
- People living in riverine and flood-prone areas are often exposed to hepatitis virus.
- Chronic hepatitis can lead to liver failure and when that begins to happen, your brain can relapse. This can in turn lead to a mild case of dementia.
- An advanced case of hepatitis can also lead to blood clotting. This is because a damaged liver will produce fewer proteins.
In a lot of cases, hepatitis is a recurring condition.
Therefore, monitoring the progression of liver disease and its treatment will help in managing hepatitis B and C.
Ultrasound examinations and CT scans can determine if there are complications such as cirrhosis or liver cancer that can be treated more effectively if found early. Some people will not need treatment.
Also, people should check certain lifestyle behaviors.
The truth of the matter is this; the cheapest and most available lifestyles activities that people indulge in are the things that cause dangerous diseases and viral infections to our body!
Often, to maintain a healthy life, people are admonished to watch their indulgences. Sound health is as expensive as it is cheap!
Prevention is better than cure. As they say, your life is in your hand.
- How To Treat Urinary Tract Infections (UTI): 15 Proven Ways
- Ginseng: The Wonder Natural Therapy of our Time
- 15 Incredible Home Remedies for Tuberculosis