What is Hepatitis?

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What is Hepatitis?

What is Hepatitis? Hepatitis is basically described as inflammation of the liver. The causes of Hepatitis include viral or bacterial infection, continuous exposure to toxic chemicals including drugs and alcohol, and autoimmune disorders. The liver ceases to perform its normal functions of storing blood sugar and converting it to energy, filtering harmful, infectious substances from the blood and producing beneficial proteins. Chronic Hepatitis may lead to cirrhosis of the liver where healthy liver cells become nonfunctional and die; in some cases, liver cancer may develop. Symptoms of Hepatitis tend to mimic flu symptoms, such as nausea, fever, fatigue, and body aches; localized abdominal pain may occur. In severe cases the liver may fail to properly break down bile which in turn leads to jaundice -- yellowing of the whites of the eyes and skin tissue.

What is Hepatitis? There are several kinds of Hepatitis which are designated by letters of the alphabet.

Hepatitis A: Hepatitis A is caused by the Hepatitis A virus (HAV). It is a short term infection transmitted through oral-fecal pathways. It occurs when something is placed in the mouth which has been infected by the stool of a person carrying the HAV virus. There is currently a vaccine to prevent Hepatitis A; good personal hygiene is also an effective preventative.

Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B is caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). It is a very serious infection leading to chronic, lifelong illness. It may result in liver cancer, cirrhosis, liver failure, and even death. The Hepatitis B virus is a blood-borne infection. Transmission results from sex with an infected person and intravenous drug use; an infected mother may pass the virus to the fetus and healthcare workers are at-risk when treating patients with the virus. The Hepatitis B vaccine is a good preventative; persons should also abstain from at-risk behavior.

Hepatitis C: Hepatitis C is caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). It is a blood-borne infection leading to serious liver disease such as cirrhosis and cancer. Persons at risk for HCV may also be at risk for HIV and HBV. Transmission results from blood transfusions, unprotected sex, intravenous drug use, and hemodialysis. The use of sharp objects by healthcare workers treating infected patients is another risk factor; mothers may pass the virus on to their children. There is currently no known vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis D: Hepatitis D is caused by the Hepatitis D virus (HDV). HDV is termed a “defective virus” in that it cannot exist or replicate on its own; it depends upon the presence of HBV to exist. Patients with Hepatitis B who suddenly develop a worsening of symptoms should be suspected of having contracted Hepatitis D. The Hepatitis B patient is deemed to be co-infected or super-infected with the Hepatitis D virus. This blood-borne disease is transmitted similarly to HBV and HCV. Hepatitis D may be prevented with the Hepatitis B vaccine.

Hepatitis E: Hepatitis E is caused by the Hepatitis E virus (HEV). It is found in the stool of persons infected with the virus, and, like Hepatitis A, is transmitted when contaminated food or water is ingested. It is not a chronic illness. Pregnant women may develop the most severe form of the disease, especially those in the third trimester. Good health and hygiene practices will act as a preventative. However, this virus is more commonly seen in areas where hygienic practices are poor, such as developing nations. It is rarely seen in the United States.



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