WHAT IS HEPATITIS?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can cause a range of health problems and can be fatal. There are five main strains of the hepatitis virus, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. While they all cause liver disease, they differ in important ways including modes of transmission, severity of the illness, geographical distribution and prevention methods. In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis, cancer and viral hepatitis-related deaths. An estimated 325 million people worldwide live with hepatitis B and/or C, and for most, testing and treatment remains beyond reach.
Many people with hepatitis A, B, C, D or E exhibit only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Each form of the virus, however, can cause more severe symptoms. Symptoms of hepatitis A, B and C may include fever, malaise, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark-coloured urine and jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes). In some cases, the virus can also cause a chronic liver infection that can later develop into cirrhosis (a scarring of the liver) or liver cancer. These patients are at risk of death.
Hepatitis E (HEV) begins with mild fever, reduced appetite, nausea and vomiting lasting for a few days. Some persons may also have abdominal pain, itching (without skin lesions), skin rash or joint pain. They may also exhibit jaundice, with dark urine and pale stools, and a slightly enlarged, tender liver (hepatomegaly), or occasionally acute liver failure.
Safe and effective vaccines are available to prevent hepatitis B virus (HBV). This vaccine also prevents the development of hepatitis D virus (HDV) and given at birth strongly reduces transmission risk from mother to child. Chronic hepatitis B infection can be treated with antiviral agents. Treatment can slow the progression of cirrhosis, reduce the incidence of liver cancer and improve long term survival. Only a proportion of people with chronic hepatitis B infection will require treatment. A vaccine also exists to prevent infections of hepatitis E (HEV), although it is not currently widely available. There are no specific treatments for HBV and HEV and hospitalization is not usually required. It is advised to avoid unnecessary medications due to the negative effect on liver function caused by these infections.