Hepatitis is a common medical condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is said that more than 1 million new infections occurs yearly and about 80% of new cases of hepatitis occur in Africa and Asia. Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver which can be caused by different conditions and agents but Viral Hepatitis is specifically caused by viruses which have great affinity for the cells of the liver. The liver is an important organ of the body and it serves many functions. These functions include: metabolism of fat carbohydrate and protein, detoxification of the body, deamination of proteins, and productions of certain enzymes / clotting factors and without the liver, it is impossible to have a healthy life.
However, before an individual shows obvious clinical symptoms of liver disease, about 90% of the liver has been damaged beyond repair. It is also important to note that the liver is a wonderful organ and perhaps the only organ in the body that can fully regenerate itself after injuries, disease of even after removal of a large segment for transplant. In this article, we are going to discuss 10 things we must all know about viral hepatitis.
1. Types of viral hepatitis: Viral hepatitis is typically caused by 5 different types of viruses. There take up the alphabets A-E and can be separated into HAV, HBV, HCV, HDV and HEV with H standing for hepatitis, V referring to virus. However other viruses have been shown to affect the liver but the aforementioned viruses are those of high significance in clinical practice in Africa.
2. How is the virus transmitted: For HBV and HCV, the mode of transmission is via contact with infected blood and body fluids. These are via unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected partner, transfusion with an infected blood, contact with infected saliva, sweats and other body fluids, sharing of needles and sharps. For HAV, it is via the consumption of food or water infected with the virus.
3. Can it be transmitted from mother to child: Transmission from mother to child is another important route of transmission which can occur during pregnancy and the risk is further increased in the presence of HIV co-infection. Maternal to child transmission can also be via breast milk
4. My doctor says I have jaundice: It’s a paramount symptom of viral hepatitis infection characterized by the yellowish discoloration of the skin, sclera and mucus membranes caused by an increase in the circulating levels of a special pigment in the body referred to as bilirubin. Most patients discover that their eyes are turning yellow in colour and it is usually the first noticeable symptom of hepatitis.
5. What are the symptoms of viral hepatitis: Symptoms of viral hepatitis includes: jaundice, abdominal distension from enlarged liver with abdominal pain, anorexia, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, loss of appetite and weight loss, fever which may be associated with chills and rigor, generalized body weakness.
6. Can viral hepatitis be prevented: Viral hepatitis can be prevented by immunization of children between the ages of 9-11 months, by following the ABC of protection against sexual transmitted diseases, good personal hygiene, proper disposal of feaces, hand washing, drinking of safe and potable water for HAV infection.
7. Can it be treated? Viral hepatitis seldom runs a natural course with about 80% of patients having complete resolution of symptoms after treatment. The remaining may become chronic carriers or may go ahead to develop cancer of the liver or cirrhosis which is the hallmark of liver disease
8. Who is a chronic carrier? A chronic carrier is an individual who test positive for HbsAg and such test remains positive after 6 months from the initial test or from the onset of symptoms. Such patients do not show any obvious clinical sign of symptom. However, they stand a greater risk of developing cirrhosis and/or cancer of the liver
9. What are the complications: These are cancer of the liver, sudden liver failure and death, chronic carrier state, poor healthy and untimely death
10. Can an individual get different types of hepatitis? Yes, it is very possible and in fact, infection of HBV and HDV in the same individual can lead to severe liver disease and failure. Co-infection or super infection of HDV in a patient with an established HBV infection worsens the clinical disease and hasten liver damage and failure.