While hepatitis is a larger problem abroad, viral hepatitis still affects more than 3 million people around the world. The disease is widely misunderstood by the public. Here is some information to help you understand viral hepatitis.
What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The disease can be chronic or acute. Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis infection, but alcohol, drugs, and autoimmune diseases can also cause hepatitis.
Hepatitis affects more than 300 million people
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 325 million people around the world have chronic hepatitis B (HBV) or hepatitis C (HCV). That’s roughly the population of the United States.
Hepatitis can be fatal
Hepatitis A typically does not cause chronic infection and has no complications. However, deaths caused by viral hepatitis are increasing globally. Viral hepatitis causes over 1 million deaths each year. It’s responsible for two of every three liver cancer deaths.
There are five different types of viral hepatitis
Hepatitis A,B,C,D, and E are the different types of hepatitis virus; all of these viruses cause liver disease. Hepatitis C (HCV), hepatitis B (HBV), and hepatitis A (HAV) are the most common causes of hepatitis in the United States.
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention reports that HCV affects 2.4 million Americans with 41,000 new infections each year, HBV affects 850,000 with 21,000 new infections each year, and HAV infects 4,000 people each year.
Hepatitis isn’t just an STD
Viral hepatitis can be transmitted through sexual contact, but there are many other ways to get hepatitis. HAV is most commonly transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food or drink. HCV is mostly transmitted through exposure to contaminated blood; this can occur during blood transfusions, contaminated medical equipment, and injection drug use.
How is hepatitis transmitted?
Hepatitis viruses are transmitted in different ways.
- Contact with infected body fluids.
- Contaminated injection drug needles.
- Sharing personal items with someone who has hepatitis (toothbrush, razors, etc.).
- Sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis.
- Close personal contact, living in a household with someone who is infected.
- HBV can be transmitted from mother to child during birth.
- Contaminated food or water is the most common cause of HAV and HEV infection.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis?
Viral hepatitis isn’t easy to detect. It has few recognizable symptoms, and some people have no symptoms at all. According to WHO, 290 million people who have hepatitis are not aware that they are infected.
Symptoms of hepatitis may include
- joint pain
- dark urine
- light-colored stool
- abdominal pain
- loss of appetite
You can test to see if you have hepatitis.
There are diagnostic and screening tests for hepatitis. The blood tests can determine whether or not you have a viral hepatitis infection. Some tests can determine if you’re immune to hepatitis infections, and some identify how long you’ve had the disease. Some of these tests look for parts of the virus itself, and others look for antibodies.
Your primary care physician can help you determine if you should be tested, and which test is right for you.
Viral hepatitis can be prevented
You can prevent some forms of viral hepatitis through vaccination. Hepatitis vaccines are safe and effective; you won’t get hepatitis from a vaccine.
There is a vaccine for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Vaccinating against hepatitis B will also protect you against hepatitis D. Only those with hepatitis B can get hepatitis D.
No vaccines are available in the United States for hepatitis C. This form of the disease can be cured, however.
In addition to vaccination, there are other steps you can take to prevent hepatitis infections.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after using the restroom.
- Wash your hands after coming in contact with another person’s blood, stool, or other bodily fluids.
- Ask your doctor about hepatitis before traveling.
- Avoid contaminated water and foods.
- Do not eat raw or undercooked meat and fish.
- Thoroughly wash all produce before consuming it.
- Do not share toothbrushes or razors.
- Avoid illegal drugs.
- Clean and cover cuts and wounds.
Who is at risk for hepatitis?
Some groups of people are at a higher risk for hepatitis.
- International travelers, especially those who travel to Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe.
- Those who use illegal drugs, especially injection drugs
- Children whose mother had HBV.
- You live with someone who has chronic hepatitis.
- Having multiple sexual partners, or having sex with someone who has hepatitis
- Men who have sex with other men.
- Workers who come in contact with blood, stool, or other bodily fluids