HEPATITIS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

In other articles we’ve talked about how people become ill from either a virus or bacteria. Some of those illnesses can be fatal. One serious virus which can cause death is hepatitis. World Hepatitis Day (one of only four official disease-specific world health days) is July 28 each year. We’re here today to tell you what you need to know about hepatitis and preventing an infection.


BACTERIA VS. VIRUS

Although they both cause illness, they are different. Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms that thrive in many different types of environments.  They can be either good (like the ones that live in your digestive system and help digest food) or bad (like the ones that cause strep throat or tuberculosis). Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics.

Viruses are even smaller than bacteria and require living hosts — such as people, plants or animals — to multiply. Otherwise, they can’t survive. When a virus enters your body, it actually alters some of your cell machinery and redirects it to produce the virus, rather than what the cell was supposed to be doing.  Eventually, it can kill the host. Viral infections are treated by attacking the symptoms and building up the body’s natural defenses.


TYPES OF HEPATITIS VIRUS

Viral hepatitis (the illness) is an inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. The inflammation can lead to liver cancer, or liver failure. There are five different hepatitis viruses:  hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.
  • A- Hepatitis A is mainly spread through eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water.  There is no known treatment, although the body often clears the infection on its own.
  • B - Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person. A mother can pass it to a child during childbirth. It can also be passed by sharing razors, toothbrushes or needles/syringes or having unprotected sex. There is no cure for hepatitis B, although a variety of antiviral drugs are available to slow the replication of the virus.
  • C - Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact such as unsafe injection practices and use of unscreened blood and blood products. It can also be transmitted through certain sexual practices when blood is involved. It can be cured with a combination of interferon and ribavirin. Other potent direct acting antiviral drugs are becoming available.
  • D - Hepatitis D is also passed on through contact with infected blood and it occurs only among people who are already infected with the hepatitis B virus.  There is no effective treatment.
  • E - Hepatitis E is mainly transmitted through eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water.   There is no current treatment for hepatitis E. People usually recover by themselves although sometimes it is fatal.

PREVENTION

P
revention of a hepatitis viral infection is a combination of safe practices, and in some cases, vaccination.
  • Hepatitis A&E – Practice good hygiene and sanitation and avoid drinking water that has come from a potentially unsafe source. There is no vaccine.
  • Hepatitis B – The hepatitis B vaccine is very effective. If not vaccinated, always use condoms and avoid sharing needles, toothbrushes, razors or nail clippers. Also avoid getting tattoos or body piercings from unlicensed facilities.
  • Hepatitis C – There is no hepatitis C vaccine. Avoid blood-to-blood contact through the same safe practices as for hepatitis B.
  • Hepatitis D - People who are not already infected with hepatitis B can prevent hepatitis D infection by getting vaccinated against hepatitis B.  For those who already have hepatitis B, avoid blood-to-blood contact through the same safe practices as for hepatitis B.
When a serious, potentially fatal, viral infection can be prevented, it makes sense to follow the safe practices and, in the case of hepatitis B, get vaccinated. Be well.



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