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BRAIN ATTACK:

An introduction to Hepatitis: Types, Symptoms & Prevention

By Dr. Rajesh Upadhyay in Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Endoscopy

Jul 28 , 2023 | 2 min read

What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by viral infections, toxic substances, or autoimmune responses. The liver, an essential organ responsible for processing nutrients, filtering blood, and detoxifying harmful substances, is at the core of this disease. When hepatitis strikes, it disrupts the liver's normal functions, leading to various complications.

Types of Hepatitis

  • Hepatitis A (HAV): HAV is primarily transmitted through contaminated food or water. While it can cause acute infection, most cases do not result in chronic illness. Vaccination is available for HAV and is highly recommended for travellers to regions with poor sanitation.

  • Hepatitis B (HBV): HBV spreads through infected body fluids like semen, blood, and vaginal secretions. It can lead to acute and chronic hepatitis and, in severe cases, liver cirrhosis or liver cancer. Vaccination against HBV is a critical step in preventing its transmission.

  • Hepatitis C (HCV): HCV is primarily transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, commonly associated with sharing needles or receiving contaminated blood transfusions. Like HBV, HCV can lead to chronic hepatitis and severe liver damage. Although there is no vaccine for HCV, effective antiviral treatments are available.

  • Hepatitis D (HDV): HDV is a rare but severe form of hepatitis that occurs only in individuals infected with HBV. HDV can exacerbate the effects of HBV, leading to severe liver damage.

  • Hepatitis E (HEV): HEV transmission is similar to HAV, primarily through contaminated water. It usually causes acute infections and is more prevalent in regions with poor sanitation and limited access to clean water.


Common Symptoms of Hepatitis

The symptoms of hepatitis can vary depending on the type and severity of the infection. However, some common signs include:

  • Fatigue and weakness

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)

  • Abdominal pain and discomfort

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Dark urine and pale-coloured stools


Hepatitis Prevention

Preventing hepatitis is essential for reducing its global burden. Here are some preventive measures:

  • Vaccination: Vaccines are available for HAV and HBV. Getting vaccinated is the most effective way to prevent these types of hepatitis.

  • Practice safe sex: HBV and HCV can be transmitted through sexual contact. Using condoms and practising safe sex can help reduce the risk.

  • Avoid sharing needles: Intravenous drug use is a significant risk factor for hepatitis transmission. Avoiding the sharing of needles or using sterile, disposable needles is crucial.

  • Ensure safe blood transfusions: Screening blood donations for hepatitis viruses can significantly reduce the risk of transmission through blood transfusions.

  • Hygiene and clean water: Maintaining good hygiene practices and consuming clean, safe water can help prevent HAV and HEV infections.


Conclusion

Hepatitis remains a significant global health concern, but with increased awareness and proactive measures, its impact can be mitigated. Understanding the types of hepatitis, recognizing the symptoms, and adopting preventive measures can lead to early detection and better outcomes for those affected. Public health efforts, like vaccination campaigns and improved sanitation, play a vital role in controlling the spread of hepatitis. Together, we can work towards a future where hepatitis is no longer a threat to global health.