Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver – ranging in severity from A through E. The liver is responsible for purifying blood, producing essential substances, storing sugars, fats, and vitamins, and building chemicals. When the liver is infected, it cannot perform these functions as well and results in hepatitis symptoms and signs. Hepatitis is caused by various infectious (viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic organisms) and noninfectious (medications, toxins, and autoimmune disorders) causes.
There are five main hepatitis infections, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. These five types are of biggest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread. Reference to the hepatitis viruses often occurs in an abbreviated form. For example, HAV, HBV, HCV represent hepatitis viruses A, B, and C respectively.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HAV is a vaccine-preventable and communicable disease. HAV is transmitted person-to-person through the fecal-oral route or consumption of contaminated food or water. Typically, HAV is spread among household members and close contacts through the passage of oral secretions (intimate kissing) or stool (poor hand washing). Symptoms include fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice, and these symptoms usually resolve within two months of infection. The best way to prevent hepatitis A virus is to get vaccinated.
There are two forms of HBV: acute and chronic. Acute HBV is a short-term illness that occurs within the first six months after someone is exposed to the hepatitis B virus. HBV is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluids contaminated with the hepatitis B virus penetrates the body of a person who is not infected. This can include birth and sex. People who clear the acute illness become immune and cannot get infected with the hepatitis B virus again. However, acute HBV can form into the lifelong infection of chronic HBV. Chronic HBV can cause serious health problems over time.
Research from the World Health Organization (WHO) found that HBV resulted in 887,000 deaths in 2015. A vaccine against hepatitis B has been available since 1982 and is 95 percent effective in inhibiting infection and the growth of chronic disease and liver cancer due to HBV.
Similar to HBV, there are both acute and chronic hepatitis c infections. Acute HCV is a short-term illness, but most acute cases lead to chronic diseases due to the lack of symptoms. According to WebMD, about 3.9 million people in the United States have HCV, but so many do not know it because many do not have any symptoms. Chronic hepatitis C virus infection can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis or liver cancer. HCV is spread through blood or body fluids and is typically shared through the use of sharing drugs and needles.
Be sure to check back soon for part two of this series: a look at hepatitis D and E!
Mitra Rangarajan is an expert in the healthcare field and strives to empower patients to take charge of their health and safety. Read more on her patient safety research here!