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Understanding hepatitis: The silent killer – Part 1

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hepatitis C

July 28 is World Hepatitis Day (WHD). The term ‘hepatitis’ means inflammation of the liver.

Viruses, other infectious agents, alcohol, and other chemicals can cause hepatitis.

The two viruses that most commonly infect the liver are the hepatitis A virus and the hepatitis B virus.

Although their names are similar, these viruses are not related.

They differ in the way they are transmitted from person to person and their ability to cause chronic infection.

Symptoms of Hepatitis

Very frequently the onset of hepatitis, the acute phase, is not associated with symptoms or signs, but when they do occur they are usually general and include fatigue, nausea, decreased appetite, mild fever, or mild abdominal pain.

Later signs more specific for liver disease may occur, specifically yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) and darkening of the urine.

If the infection becomes chronic as is the cause with hepatitis B and C, that is, lasting longer than months, the symptoms and signs of chronic liver disease may begin.

At this point the liver often is badly damaged. Hepatitis A

Inflammation of the liver of any cause is referred to as hepatitis. Viruses, drugs, or alcohol may cause it, although the most common cause is viruses, viral hepatitis.

There are several types of viral hepatitis, the most common of, which are hepatitis A, B, and C.

Hepatitis A is caused by a virus which is spread predominately through the fecal-oral route when small amounts of infected fecal matter are inadvertently ingested.

Infected individuals shed large amounts of the virus in their stool, starting about two weeks before symptoms present, and continue shedding the virus in their stool for one to three months.

Close contact with an infected person increases the chances of contracting the virus.

Children are particularly contagious because they have lower standards of hygiene and may not appear sick.

The hepatitis A virus also may be spread by ingestion of food or water that is contaminated by infected individuals.

Much less commonly, contaminated needles or blood may spread hepatitis A.

Some patients with hepatitis A infection have no symptoms, and these asymptomatic infections are more common in children.

Most adults experience symptoms including: nausea, poor appetite, abdominal pain, fatigue, jaundice (yellow eyes and skin), and dark urine.

Although the symptoms resolve over several weeks, fatigue can be prolonged.

Rarely, viral hepatitis caused by hepatitis A can lead to liver failure, coma and death.

Hepatitis A does not cause chronic or persistent infection of the liver.

Once a person has recovered from hepatitis A, he or she is immune to reinfection with hepatitis A for life.

*To be continued
*Dr. Anthony Nwaoney is an epidemiologist


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