Hepatitis refers to a group of viral infections that affect the liver. These viruses cause inflammation, which affects the liver’s ability to function properly. Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common types.

Hepatitis A | Hepatitis B | Hepatitis C | Autoimmune Hepatitis

Hepatitis A

Caused by the hepatitis A virus, this infection is extremely contagious. You can contract hepatitis A if:

  • You eat food prepared by someone infected with the virus, who did not thoroughly wash his or her hands after using the restroom
  • Drink contaminated water
  • Consume raw shellfish from water that has been contaminated by sewage
  • Have close contact or sexual intercourse with an infected individual
  • The blood you receive from a transfusion contains the virus; this however is highly unlikely.

You are at a higher risk for contracting hepatitis A if you:

  • Live with an infected person
  • Travel or work in areas where the virus is common
  • Are a male who has sexual intercourse with other men
  • Utilize illicit drugs
  • Work in a research environment where you may be exposed to the virus that causes the infection

Typically, hepatitis A symptoms don’t appear until you’ve been infected for a month. Common symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Exhaustion
  • Jaundice
  • Itching
  • Pain or discomfort in the abdomen; specifically in the area where the liver is located
  • A low-grade fever
  • Loss of appetite

You may experience symptoms less than two months. However, they can last as long as six months. Furthermore, every infected individual does not have symptoms.

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. The body generally fights the infection on its own. In most cases, the liver heals completely within a month or two. In rare cases, hepatitis A can lead to acute liver failure. This occurs unexpectedly. The elderly and persons with chronic liver disease are more likely to experience this.

Treatment for hepatitis A focuses on finding ways to cope with the symptoms of the infection. Vaccines are available for persons at a higher risk of contracting the virus. However, good hygiene (washing your hands frequently) is one of the best ways to prevent infection.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is caused by the HBV (hepatitis b) virus. There are several risk factors for hepatitis B. You are at a higher risk for infection if you:

  • Engage in unprotected sexual intercourse with multiple partners or someone who has the infection
  • Have a sexually transmitted disease, like gonorrhea
  • Travel to countries where the virus is prevalent, such as Africa or Eastern Europe
  • Live with a person who has chronic HBV infection
  • Are a male who has sexual intercourse with other men
  • Have a job that exposes you to the virus, such as a health care worker
  • Share needles or syringes during drug use

It is possible for pregnant women infected with HBV to pass the virus to their infant during childbirth.

In general hepatitis B symptoms do not appear until you have been infected two to three months. Some infants and adults may never experience symptoms. Typically, symptoms of hepatitis B can be mild or severe and include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Jaundice
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Dark urine
  • Loss of appetite

Most adults recover completely from the virus, even if they experience severe symptoms. Children and infants are more likely to suffer from a chronic infection.

Acute hepatitis B usually clears up its own. Treatment focuses on reducing symptoms, while the body works to fight the infection. Chronic hepatitis B can result in liver failure, liver cancer or cirrhosis (permanent scarring of the liver).If you’re diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications to help fight the virus, and slow down its ability to harm your liver. If your liver is severely damaged, a transplant may be a treatment option.

If you know you have been exposed to HBV, contact our office immediately. We can give you hepatitis B immune globulin. If you receive this medicine within 24 hours of exposure, it may prevent you from developing hepatitis B.

Anyone can receive the hepatitis B vaccine. It is recommended for several cases, including:

  • All infants, starting at birth
  • Kids and teens who did not receive the vaccine at birth
  • Persons receiving treatment for an STD
  • Persons who are HIV-positive
  • Males who have sexual intercourse with other men
  • Persons who engage in sexual intercourse with multiple partners within six months
  • Individuals who live with an infected person
  • Individuals with chronic liver disease or end-stage kidney disease
  • Persons who plan to travel to a country where the rate for hepatitis B infection is high

There are also other methods of prevention. Never share needles. In fact, if you are using needles for drug use, seek help to stop. If you are considering a tattoo or body piercing, select a reputable shop. Ask questions beforehand. Be sure the business uses sterile equipment with each person. If you’re planning to travel to an area where the rate of infection is high, ask your doctor about the vaccine in advance.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is commonly regarded as the most serious of all the hepatitis viruses. The majority of people with the virus do not experience any symptoms. In fact, they are not aware they are infected until liver damage is identified through routine medical tests. Hepatitis C is caused by the HCV virus, and is commonly spread through contaminated blood and shared needles during drug use. Some mothers can pass the virus to their child during childbirth. In rare instances, hepatitis C may be contracted through sexual contact.

During the early stages, hepatitis C generally produces no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they are mild and flu-like and can include:

  • Fever
  • Exhaustion
  • Nausea
  • A poor appetite
  • Joint and muscle pain

You are at a higher risk of infection if:

  • You are HIV-positive
  • Your mother had hepatitis C during childbirth
  • You have used illicit drugs intravenously
  • You have received a tattoo or piercing using instruments that were not sterilized

If you’re diagnosed with hepatitis C, treatment isn’t always needed. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications to help your body fight the infection. If your liver is severely damaged, you can receive a transplant. However, this is not a cure for hepatitis C. You’ll have to continue taking antiviral medications even after the transplant, since it is likely that the infection can recur.

You can protect yourself from hepatitis C by not engaging in unprotected sex and avoiding illicit drug use. If you are considering a piercing or tattoo, select a reputable business. Ask questions beforehand. Make sure they use sterile needles with each client.

Autoimmune Hepatitis

Autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the liver, which can lead to chronic inflammation and severe damage to liver cells.

No one knows for sure what causes this condition, but research indicates that hepatitis autoimmune can occur as a result of an interaction between many risk factors, including medications or infections. Autoimmune hepatitis is classified into two types: Type 1 and Type 2.

Type 1 is the most common form. It can develop suddenly at any age. Type 2 is most common in young girls and often develops in conjunction with other autoimmune issues. Symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis can occur suddenly or over time, and can be mild or severe. During the early stages of the illness, some individuals experience a few, if any symptoms, which include:

  • Joint pain
  • Itching
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Jaundice
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • An enlarged liver
  • Spider angiomas (abnormal collection of blood vessels) on the skin

Autoimmune hepatitis most commonly affects women. The illness can occur after a viral or bacterial infection. Researchers have linked certain medications to this condition. Further research suggests that autoimmune hepatitis may be hereditary.