What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a medical condition which causes inflammation of the liver. It is caused by an infection of the liver cells by one of several hepatitis viruses including hepatitis A, B, C, D and E, as well as by other diseases such as alcohol or drug abuse. Common signs of hepatitis include yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, and abdominal pain. If left untreated it can lead to serious health problems including liver damage, cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Types of Hepatitis

The five main types of hepatitis virus are:

  • Hepatitis A – this is an acute infection caused by consumption of contaminated food and water. It is most commonly spread by the faecal-oral route.
  • Hepatitis B – this is a chronic infection caused by contact with infected blood and body fluids. It is passed on through activities such as sharing needles, through sexual contact, or from mother to baby.
  • Hepatitis C – this is also a chronic infection caused by contact with infected blood. It is often spread through sharing needles or other forms of contact with infected blood.
  • Hepatitis D – this is a chronic infection which only occurs in those infected with hepatitis B. It can lead to severe liver damage.
  • Hepatitis E – this is an acute infection caused by the hepatitis E virus. It is spread through consumption of contaminated food and water.

Symptoms of Hepatitis

Common symptoms of hepatitis include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Itchy skin
  • Fever

Treatment of Hepatitis

The treatment of hepatitis depends on the type and severity of the condition. For acute cases, bed rest and medications may be recommended. Chronic cases may require more aggressive treatment such as antiviral medication or immunosuppressive therapies. In severe cases, a liver transplant may be necessary.

Prevention of Hepatitis

The best way to prevent hepatitis is to practice safe hygiene and safe sex. Vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B, and these should be considered for individuals at risk of infection. Drug users should also practice safe injection techniques and never share needles or other equipment.