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What is it

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver, and one of the most common (and potentially serious) causes of liver inflammation is the infectious form of hepatitis, which is caused by one of six viruses, called hepatitis A, B, C, D, E, and G. Some forms of hepatitis are benign, but others may become chronic, may cause liver scarring, or cause the infected person to become a permanent carrier remaining infectious long after all symptoms have vanished.

Hepatitis disturbs the ability of the liver to carry out its normal functions secretion of bile, conversion of sugar to stored carbohydrate (and back again), and excretion of waste products and may cause mild to severe flulike symptoms as well as jaundice and serious life-threatening ailments such as liver cancer and cirrhosis. There is also a noninfectious form of hepatitis that is caused by toxic substances particularly alcohol, but also certain toxic chemicals and by the excessive use of certain medications, especially if they are taken with alcohol.


During its acute phase, viral hepatitis is often mistaken for the flu and therefore often goes undetected. The most common symptoms include

  • General discomfort.
  • Fever.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Aching muscles or joints.
  • Abdominal discomfort or pain.
  • Dark urine and pale stools.
  • Jaundice, indicated by a yellow tinge to the skin, the whites of the eyes, and in body fluids, in about half the cases.

What causes it

Viral hepatitis is contagious and is passed through human contact and contaminated water and food, as well as by unprotected sex and injection drug use. There are a variety of routes by which the different viral forms of hepatitis spread, and accordingly, certain groups are at greater risk for contracting each type of virus.

Hepatitis A

A common form of the disease is hepatitis A, which can cause severe flulike symptoms but usually leaves no lasting effects and confers lifelong immunity. It is highly infectious and is most easily transmitted when an infected person handles food. Over 100,000 people are estimated to be infected each year. Typically, the infection is passed through contaminated foods, water, and human feces. About 25 percent of all people infected with hepatitis A will experience no symptoms; those who do will have a fever of about 100°F, will feel exhausted, and will develop jaundice (yellow eyes and skin). Some people with hepatitis A become seriously ill and require hospitalization. The infection can also cause liver damage. But people usually recover completely from hepatitis A.

Hepatitis B

About 200,000 to 300,000 Americans, typically adults, are diagnosed with hepatitis B each year, and almost 6,000 die from acute hepatitis B infection annually. Hepatitis B is spread by direct blood contact sexual inter-course, the sharing of contaminated needles, and through blood transfusions in which the virus is present much like HJX the AIDS virus. The viru5 may also pass through cuts or scrapes in the skin, and it can be transmitted via saliva on a shared toothbrush. Many pregnant women with acute or chronic hepatitis B pass the infection to their babies, generally during delivers; potentially leaving them as chronic carriers of the disease.

Employment in the health care field (doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians) increases the risk of infection, as does injection drug use and sexual contact. Although symptoms are generally mild about half of those who become infected develop jaundice a small number of patients for unknown reasons go on to develop a chronic carrier state with the potential to infect others. It’s now estimated that there are one million such carriers currently in the United States. Chronic carriers are at risk for developing cirrhosis and or liver cancer.

Hepatitis C

This variant used to be known as non-A, non-B hepatitis until 1988. It’s estimated that three to four million Americans have hepatitis C, with about 150,000 new cases each year. The majority of those infected have no symptoms and don’t progress to serious disease, but many do develop symptoms, which can include nausea, extreme fatigue, fever, headaches, diarrhea, jaundice, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. Many eventually develop chronic liver disease, which may lead to cirrhosis or have cancer and which appears to be irreversible and ultimately kills thousands each year more than types A and B combined. Hepatitis C is the leading reason for liver transplants in the United States.

As with hepatitis B, transmission is primarily by direct blood contact usually via contaminated needles. Hepatitis C can also be sexually transmitted, but this is rare, while blood transfusions once posed a leading risk, the risk of getting either the B or C virus through transfusions is now minuscule (less than 1 in .3,3CG), thanks to screening tests used by blood banks.

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D only occurs as a coin-fection with hepatitis B, intensifying the severity of the hepatitis. In the United States most cases are contracted through frequent blood transfusions or from injection drug users who share needles.

Hepatitis E

This infection only occurs in developing countries and is not considered a problem in industrialized nations.

Hepatitis G

This is the newest hepatitis virus that researchers have isolated. It may cause an illness similar to hepatitis A.

What if you do nothing

Most cases of infectious hepatitis are mild and resolve on their own within two to four weeks, though some may take two to three months. But a number of people with hepatitis B or C become chronic carriers who face potentially fatal complications, notably cirrhosis and liver cancer. If symptoms or laboratory tests indicate the possibility of chronic infection, drug therapy can be considered.

Home remedies

Though drugs are being used to treat hepatitis, no known pharmaceuticals or other specific treatments provide a cure for the illness, so therapy focuses on prevention and relieving symptoms until the infection has run its course. Major objectives include getting appropriate rest, eating a proper diet, and controlling the spread of the virus.


You don’t have to stay in bed for mild cases, but taking daily naps or rest periods seem prudent.

Eat a hearty breakfast

Hepatitis symptoms of nausea and vomiting typically get worse as the day goes on. Eating a substantial breakfast wall help ensure that you maintain an adequate daily intake of calories. Eating several small meals during the course of the day, rather than a large lunch and dinner, may also help you cope with nausea.

Wash up

Wash your hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom.

Don’t drink alcohol

Alcohol can’t be effectively metabolized by the damaged liver, so refrain from drinking during the course of the disease and for a month after all laboratory tests show normal results.

Check with your physician about over-the counter medications and prescription drugs

Acetaminophen, aspirin, birth control pills, and certain antibiotics are potentially toxic to the liver.


Wash your hands

Always wash with soap and water after using the toilet, after changing diapers, before preparing foods, and before eating. This helps stop the spread of many diseases, including hepatitis A.

Practice safe sex

Using condoms and avoiding multiple sex partners will eliminate your risk of hepatitis B infection.

Get inoculated against hepatitis A

A new vaccine is available for use against this virus. Formerly, the closest thing to a vaccine was gamma globulin for those who had been exposed or were likely to be, but it offers limited and short-term protection (lasting only about five months). It’s uncertain how long the new vaccine lasts at least for several years and possibly a lifetime. You do need a booster shot after 6 to 12 months. The vaccine is safe and has few side effects. These are the people who need protection against the infection:

  • Anybody over age two who will be traveling in Mexico and Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, or other areas where hepatitis A is common.
  • Anyone who has oral-genital sex.
  • People with chronic liver disease, for whom hepatitis can be very dangerous.
  • Street users of injection drugs.

Get inoculated against hepatitis B

There is an effective vaccine with minimal side effects. Newborns should be routinely vaccinated, just as they are immunized against polio and other diseases. Lately, an increasing number of state health divisions have taken steps to need hepatitis B immunizations for all youngsters, who are observed as a high-risk group. Unfortunately, parents and physicians have been slow to accept the idea of immunization perhaps because of the high cost and an unwilling-ness to believe that the disease is a real danger to people not designated as high risk.

Other high-risk groups include sexually active gay men, heterosexuals with multiple partners, health care workers, injection drug users, children of immigrants from regions where hepatitis is common, such as Southeast Asia, and people who travel frequently to high-risk areas. The triple-infection vaccine provides immunity for five or more years.

If you are pregnant, have a hepatitis B blood test

If it’s positive, a physician can help protect the newborn with an injection at birth of a special type of gamma globulin. The infant should also be vaccinated against hepatitis B.

Cook your foods

You are at risk of contracting hepatitis A if you eat certain foods, such as shellfish, in a raw or undercooked state.

Be careful with any needles

If you are getting your body pierced or tattooed, or receiving acupuncture, make sure the needles are brand new or have been properly sterilized in an autoclave.

Don’t use an injection street drug

If you do use such drugs, never share needles.

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