Every year on July 28th, we observe World Hepatitis Day. Hepatitis is characterized by inflammation of the liver and can lead to fibrosis (scarring) and cirrhosis (advanced stage scarring) of the organ. Hepatitis is classified into 5 main viruses known as type A, B, C, D, and E. Although they all cause liver disease, they differ in the way they are transmitted and affect the liver. Symptoms for hepatitis can range from acute (short term) to chronic (long term) depending on the type. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that about 325 million people around the world are living with chronic hepatitis B or chronic hepatitis C. Learn more about the main 5 types of hepatitis and how you can prevent infection or minimize risk, below:
Hepatitis A Virus
Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is found in the feces of those infected with the virus and is typically transmitted when a person consumes food or water contaminated by feces from a person infected or through sexual or intimate contact with someone infected. Hepatitis A is highly contagious and while it does not cause chronic liver disease and is almost never fatal, it can cause severe symptoms like sudden nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain (near your liver), loss of appetite, fever, dark urine, joint pain, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of your eyes), and more.
One of the best ways to prevent the virus is through vaccination and overall improved hygiene. If you become exposed to the virus, you may be able to prevent infection by getting vaccinated within 2 weeks of exposure.
Hepatitis B Virus
Hepatitis B (HBV) is often transmitted from an infected mother to her infant in childbirth. Other ways you can contract the virus is by having contact with infected blood, semen, or other bodily fluids through unsanitary medical equipment or needles for drug use. Unlike Hepatitis A, hepatitis B can lead to chronic infection in some people.
According to the World Health Organization, the best way to prevent HBV is to get a 3 dose vaccine with the first dose given as soon as possible following birth. This is a separate vaccine from the one given for hepatitis A.
Hepatitis C Virus
Like HBV, hepatitis C (HCV) is passed down when coming in contact with infected blood. This can take place when sharing needles for drug use, unsanitary medical procedures, and in child birth from infected mother to infant. Like hepatitis B, hepatitis C can cause both acute and chronic infection with most people developing the latter.
There currently isn’t a vaccine for hepatitis C, however there is treatment available. As a result of new research and treatments, more than 90% of those infected with HCV can be cured.
Hepatitis D Virus
Hepatitis D (HDV) is only present in those who are infected with hepatitis B and is considered the most severe form of hepatitis due to how quickly the infection progresses. Hepatitis D may be prevented with an HBV vaccine.
Hepatitis E Virus
Hepatitis D is mostly transmitted when ingesting contaminated water or food. The infection typically clears up on its own and lasts for about 4 to 6 weeks. Although there is treatment in existence, its availability is limited.
Hepatitis affects millions of people of varying age, gender and ethnicity around the world. World Hepatitis Day aims at creating more awareness of the causes and preventive methods for the disease in an effort to lower the number of infections worldwide. Although it is a serious infection that can lead to life threatening illness, safe and effective treatment is available for those infected. The best form of defense against any disease is early diagnosis. As always, contact your medical provider to learn more about hepatitis or if you suspect you’ve had exposure to the virus.