HEPATITIS: What You Need To Know

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The term Hepatitis refers to the inflammation of the Liver. Substances like excessive alcohol, drugs and toxic chemicals can be responsible for this, but the major cause is the Hepatitis Viruses. There are five types of hepatitis viruses, which are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis D and Hepatitis E. All of them are RNA viruses except the Hepatitis B Virus, which is a DNA virus.

Hepatitis A mainly causes an acute infection. It is transmitted through the faeco-oral route, meaning that a healthy person can get infected on consumption of food or water that has been contaminated by the faeces of an infected person. Treatment for Hepatitis A only requires managing the symptoms, as well as eating enough nutrients and proper bed rest. The illness usually resolves on its own.
Hepatitis B causes both acute and chronic infection, meaning that it first starts out as an acute infection (short-lived), but when the body’s immune system does not clear it out early enough, it progresses to become a chronic infection. It is transmitted through sexual intercourse, blood to blood contact (using infected needles) and perinatally (from Mother to child). Treatment depends on the type of infection. When it is acute, the symptoms are managed and no specific treatment is required. If it is chronic, it can be treated with anti-viral medications, but these are costly and may span several months or years.
Hepatitis C also causes both acute and chronic infection, and is transmitted through blood contact and the perinatal route (Mother to child). It may also be transmitted through sex, but this is very rare. Antiviral medications are used to treat both the acute and chronic forms of infection. If liver cirrhosis occurs from chronic Hepatitis C, the patient may require a Liver transplant.
Hepatitis D mainly causes a chronic infection. This particular virus needs the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) in order to infect host cells. It does this by two ways: By co-infection, where it infiltrates the cell at exactly the same time as the HBV, or by superinfection, where it only infects a host cell after the HBV has already infected the cell and weakened it. Like HBV and HCV, it is also transmitted through sex, blood contact and perinatal route.
Hepatitis E causes an acute infection, and is transmitted through the faeco-oral route. It does not require any specific treatment, as the disease is acute and will eventually resolve with proper nutrition and adequate rest. So, it is very much similar to the Hepatitis A Virus.

The signs and symptoms of hepatitis include fever, general weakness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Excessive vomiting and diarrhoea results in dehydration and weight loss. As the disease progresses, other signs like jaundice, hepatomegaly, production of dark-coloured urine and pale-coloured stools may also be observed.

In the diagnosis of hepatitis, Liver function tests (LFT) can be carried out to determine the level of damage to the liver, and blood films from the patient can be examined for lymphocytosis. As there is an active viral infection, numerous abnormal lymphocytes may be detected under the microscope, due to their increased proliferation and activation. These methods are simply indicators of liver damage and viral infection, but the actual confirmation of hepatitis is by Serological testing, which involves screening the suspected patient’s blood sample for the presence of antibodies against the Hepatitis virus. If confirmed positive, immediate treatment must commence to prevent further progression of the disease.

Some preventive measures against the disease include ensuring that food and water sources are clean, sterilizing instruments for drawing blood and surgical equipment, avoiding contact with spilled blood, not sharing toothbrushes, and avoiding unprotected sex. However, the most effective method of prevention is by vaccination, which boosts immunity against the virus by about 97%. Note that all types of hepatitis have vaccines except Hepatitis C, which currently has no vaccine.
Vaccination is recommended for all individuals, especially healthcare professionals, because they are at the greatest risk of infection by direct contact with infected patients or contact with the patient’s body fluids.

This article was written by Emmanuel Elebesunu

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