Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hepatitis - The Facts

Hepatitis is a highly infectious disease and can happen to people regardless of age. It does, however, occur more in young people and those who work in industries where they are handling contaminated material. Because young people are more inclined to be involved in risk-taking behaviors, it may explain why this disease predominately affects this age group.

The disease causes the liver to become inflamed and is caused by viruses transmitted via blood, saliva, or faeces. The two main viruses are hepatitis A and hepatitis B. there is also hepatitis C which is transmitted in a similar fashion to hepatitis B but occurs when neither the A or B virus is present. There is also hepatitis D, E and F though these are less common. Hepatitis D cannot cause disease but can cause a severe liver infection if contracted with hepatitis B.

The main transmission of hepatitis A is through contaminated food or water and is sometimes found in areas of poor sanitation and inadequate housing. It is only infectious during the incubation period and is not transmitted by carriers. It can also be transmitted through infected blood products.

Hepatitis B has a longer incubation period, sometimes lasting for several months. It is usually transmitted by infected blood, often because of blood transfusions or through the sharing of infected intravenous needles. Fortunately, the blood screening tests available in the West means that the transmission of this disease via blood transfusion is almost unheard of. However, the transmission via shared intravenous needles continues to be a problem. It can also be transmitted by non sterile tattoo needles and razor blades. Another mode of transmission is by sexual contact. If a pregnant woman contracts hepatitis B, the virus can infect her unborn child by getting into the fetal bloodstream.

Most hepatitis infections, either A or B, are quite mild but they leave chemical evidence in the blood and this shows up in blood tests. If the infection is severe enough to cause significant inflammation of the liver, it blocks the liver's ability to eliminate the bile pigments. This then causes the bile to enter the circulatory system and leads to jaundice, a yellow tinge of the skin and the whites of the eyes. The patient often feels ill for some time before the jaundice becomes noticeable. There is pain in the upper right side of the abdomen and often there is pain similar to arthritis in the joints. There may also be a rash.

While the jaundice is obvious, the person often feels nauseated and vomits frequently. This normally lasts for no more than two weeks and the person is often fully recovered within six weeks. The person becomes a carrier if the virus is not eliminated from the body. While this does not cause great problems in many people, some develop chronic inflammation of the liver which then progresses to cirrhosis of the liver, an often fatal disease. Because there is no carrier state with hepatitis A, this is only a problem in hepatitis B or C.

Hepatitis can be simply diagnosed if by the typical symptoms when present. These can be confirmed by blood tests. When the patient has overcome the disease, antibodies are present in the blood. If there are no antibodies, the patient is still carrying the virus. A doctor may order blood tests or a liver biopsy if he suspects that the patient is developing chronic liver disease.

Not all hepatitis sufferers need to be hospitalized and often can be treated at home. Those at risk include expectant mothers, diabetics and the elderly and these groups are usually treated in hospital. Whether the patient is in hospital or at home, it is essential that separate cooking and eating utensils are used to avoid cross infection. Extra care needs to be taken with hygiene.

The sufferer should not take any medications during their illness and must not drink any alcohol. Alcohol acts as a poison on the liver so must be totally avoided for at least six months after having hepatitis.

The majority of hepatitis attacks are mild and are followed by complete recovery. Hepatitis can recur, but in such cases it is rarely caused by the same type of virus. It is, however, possible for patients who are carriers to suffer a relapse. If a person has had hepatitis, the best advice is never to drink alcohol again. Failing that, he or she should abstain from all alcoholic drinks for at least six months.

About the author :

Anne Wolski has worked in the health and welfare industry for more than 30 years. She is a co-director of an information portal with many interesting medical articles and also of which has online physicians who can help you with any questions you may have.

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