Viral Hepatitis is the 7th leading cause of death worldwide. The condition caused 1.34 million deaths in 2015. In 2016, a campaign to eliminate the condition by 2030 was launched by the World Health Organization.

What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a viral infection of the liver. This condition occurs when you have been infected by a strain of the Hepatitis virus.

The liver has many functions such as filtering toxins out of your blood and converting food into energy

There are many different types of Hepatitis. Some will not cause any serious problems and will last for a short-period of time (acute Hepatitis). Others can last for longer and eventually affect the function of your liver. This includes liver scarring (Cirrhosis) or, in severe cases, liver cancer.

 

Types of Hepatitis

The main strains of the virus are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Hepatitis D, E, F and G are rare. The Hepatitis A vaccine and the Hepatitis B vaccine will protect you from these virus types. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, despite this particular strain being the UK’s most recent concern.

Hepatitis A

The Hepatitis A virus is usually passed on through contaminated food and drink. This can be the result of contact with the faeces of an infected person. It is most common in countries where hygiene levels are low, and sanitation is poor. It can also be sexually transmitted.

Is there a cure for Hepatitis A?

Though a Hepatitis A infection can pass within a few months, it can sometimes be life-threatening. No specific treatment can be provided for this type of Hepatitis aside from medication that may help relieve symptoms such as pain, itching and feeling sick.

You should get vaccinated against Hepatitis A if you are planning travel to a region where there is a high prevalence of the virus. This includes areas such as Africa, Central and South America, Eastern Europe, the Far East or the Indian subcontinent.

Download Better2Know’s Hepatitis A Factsheet for more information.

 

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is caused by a virus that is spread through the blood of an infected person. It can also be passed on through unprotected sexual contact, from pregnant women to their children, and child-to-child contact. Injecting drugs also increases your chances of catching Hepatitis B.

Is there a cure for Hepatitis B?

The majority of adults who are infected with Hepatitis B will be able to fully recover from their infection within a couple of months. Despite this, those who were infected in their childhood can develop a long-term Hepatitis B infection. This may lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

There is treatment available for Hepatitis B infections in the form of antiviral medication. The Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for people who are in high-risk groups including:

  • Men who have sex with men
  • Healthcare workers
  • Travellers going to parts of the world where Hepatitis B is prevalent
  • Children who were born from mothers who have Hepatitis B
  • People who inject drugs

Download Better2Know’s Hepatitis B Factsheet to find out more.

 

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is the UK’s most common type of viral Hepatitis. You can catch the virus through blood-to-blood contact with a Hepatitis C infected person. It is easily passed on through unprotected sex and sharing drug injecting equipment.

Following the recent public inquiry into the contaminated blood cases of the 1970s and 1980s, many infected individuals shared their stories of how they became infected.

At the age of 43, one man told the BBC that he had been infected with Hepatitis C when he was a child. He said:

“I lost everything. I lost my whole life the day I found out – everything ended.”

It was revealed that he had been given an injection of blood products for a swollen knee that was misdiagnosed as haemophilia.

Having an early diagnosis would have helped to halt the progression of the virus and improve his quality of life.

Is there a cure for Hepatitis C?

1 in 4 people will fight off the Hepatitis C virus and recover from the infection. However, in some cases, the virus will stay in your system for many years – recognised as chronic Hepatitis C – which may result in liver failure or cirrhosis. A chronic Hepatitis C infection is treatable with antiviral medication. No vaccine for Hepatitis C is currently available.

Download Better2Know’s Hepatitis C Factsheet to read more.

 

Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis

In some cases, symptoms of Hepatitis are not always present, particularly if your Hepatitis infection is chronic. In these circumstances, you may not know you have been infected until your liver stops working and you have a blood test.

However, if signs of Hepatitis are present, they can include:

  • Itchy skin
  • Fever
  • Being sick or feeling sick
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Pale or grey-coloured faeces
  • Loss of appetite

In the late stages of a Hepatitis infection, you could experience:

  • Jaundice
  • Confusion
  • Blood in your vomit or faeces
  • Swollen legs, ankles and feet

If you are suffering from any of the above symptoms, or you are worried about Hepatitis, you should get tested as soon as possible.

 

Testing for Hepatitis

You can test for each type of Hepatitis with your doctor or at any sexual health clinic in the UK. The tests will require a blood sample. There are various types of tests available for Hepatitis: some tests look for the antibodies to the virus (these are proteins that your immune system makes to fight the virus), and other tests will look for parts of the virus (such as genetic material or proteins).

Better2Know’s Hepatitis C Home Test Kit

There are tests available that will tell you if you are infected now, and others that will tell you if you have been infected for a while, or if you have an immunity to a specific type of Hepatitis.

 

Sources

[1] BBC: Contaminated blood scandal: Inquiry ‘must uncover truth’

[2] Imperial College London News: Global Health Forum: Viral hepatitis

[3] MedlinePlus: Hepatitis Testing

[4] NHS: Hepatitis

[5] Terrence Higgins Trust: Hepatitis

[6] Terrence Higgins Trust: Hepatitis C

 

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