Hepatitis is swelling and inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis A, B and C are viral infections of the liver causing such swelling and inflammation. Hepatitis can also be caused by autoimmunity, bacterial infections, parasites, liver damage from alcohol, poisonous mushrooms, or other poisons, or medications (e.g. – an overdose of acetaminophen (found in Tylenol and other over-the-counter meds).
Today is about Hep B and C, so here’s a bit of information about them both:
Hepatitis B or C can be either acute or chronic. Acute Hepatitis is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis virus. Chronic Hepatitis is a long-term illness that occurs when the Hepatitis virus remains in a person’s body. Over time, the infection can cause serious health problems.
If left untreated, both the hepatitis B and C viruses can lead to liver scarring (cirrhosis) which can increase your risk of life-threatening complications such as bleeding, ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity), coma, liver cancer, liver failure and death.
Hepatitis B is one of the most common viral infections in the world. It is about 50-100 times more infection than HIV. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 2 billion people have been infected with the hepatitis B virus and approximately 350 million people are living with chronic infections. Every year, approximately 3,000 people in the United States and more than 600,000 people worldwide die from Hepatitis B-related liver disease.
Infection with the Hepatitis B virus shown on the right causes this disease. It can be spread through contact with bodily fluids such as through blood transfusions, sexual contact with an infected person, sharing needles, or even shared toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers or other personal items. It can also be passed to infants during childbirth if the mother is infected.
According to the CDC – In the United States, approximately 1.2 million people have chronic Hepatitis B, but many do not know they are infected. About 15%–25% of people with chronic Hepatitis B develop serious liver problems. The number of new cases of Hepatitis B has decreased more than 80% over the last 20 years. Still, an estimated 40,000 people are infected each year.
(Note: picture to the right is of a toy from GiantMicrobes who make stuffed versions of all sorts of ailments from the flu to gangrene – just a silly note in the midst of a serious discussion, but also a unique way to teach kids about diseases)
Hepatitis C virus that causes this disease is spread through direct contact with infected blood. Those at risk for Hepatitis C include those on long-term kidney dialysis, who have regular contact with blood at work, has unprotected sexual contact with a person with Hep C, sharing needles, getting a tattoo with contaminated instruments, sharing personal items like toothbrushes and razor. And it can also be passed to infants during childbirth.
According to the CDC – An estimated 3.2 million people in the United States have chronic Hepatitis C. Most are unaware of they are infected. Between 75-85% of those infected develop chronic Hep C. Approximately 170 million people chronically infected with hepatitis C worldwide. Each year, about 17,000 Americans become infected with Hepatitis C. Unfortunately, 12,000 people die from this disease every year.
If infected with Hepatitis B or C, there may be no symptoms. For acute infections, symptoms may appear after 2 weeks but may take up to 6 months. For chronic infections, it can take up to 30 years to develop symptoms – with liver damage occurring in the meantime. When symptoms do appear, they often are a sign of advanced liver disease. Symptoms for both acute and chronic Hepatitis B and C can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, grey-colored stools, joint pain, and jaundice. If you come into contact with bodily fluids of someone with Hepatitis B or blood of someone with Hepatitis C, it’s best to get checked by your doctor to see if you’re infected (it’s a simple blood test).
While there is a vaccine that protects against hepatitis B infection, there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C. However, there are other ways to prevent contracting hep B or C:
- Don’t share needles
- Don’t use personal items that may have come into contact with an infected person’s blood like razors, nail clippers, toothbrushes
- Don’t get tattoos or body piercings from an unlicensed facility
- Practice safe sex
Another prevention effort involves needle exchange programs. I will post more about these soon to continue this discussion on hepatitis viral infections as well as other communicable diseases.
For more information:
CDC Viral Hepatitis page