What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a disease that affects the liver and is a major global health problem. An understanding of the disease and its causes can be helpful in preventing its occurrence and, if the infection should have happened, in getting the right treatment in a timely manner.

This is spread by the Hepatitis A virus and occurs when an uninfected and unvaccinated person consumes food or water that it is contaminated by the faeces of a person suffering from this disease. Improper sanitation and poor personal hygiene are major contributors to its spread.


Hepatitis A

Unlike the other more serious forms of the condition, Hepatitis A does not cause chronic liver disease and is rarely fatal. However, the symptoms are often debilitating and the infection could lead to acute liver failure which can be fatal. Vaccination or immunity from having suffered a previous infection can prevent the occurrence

Also Read:Hepatitis is Vaccine-Preventable

Symptoms of Hepatitis A

  • The symptoms of Hepatitis A can range from mild to severe in nature. These include:
  • Fever
  • Malaise and general weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Dark coloured urine
  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • The number and severity of the symptoms will vary from patient to patient.
  • Prevention: The most effective ways of preventing the spread of the disease is by:
  • Improving sanitation
  • Immunization
  • Controlling food and water quality
  • Proper disposal of sewage both at the home and community level
  • Good personal hygiene practices such are regular hand washing using soap and uncontaminated water

Hepatitis B

This is a potentially life threatening form of the disease and is caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). It can result in chronic infection and puts patients at high risk from liver cancer and cirrhosis. The virus is commonly transmitted from other to a child at birth or through exposure to infected blood. Infection through exposure is most frequently seen in children below the age of 5 years. The virus can also spread though exposure to the bodily fluids of an infected person such as menstrual, vaginal and seminal fluids and saliva.

Symptoms of Hepatitis B

  • In many cases, symptoms are not experienced during the acute infection phase. In other cases the illness can take an acute form and symptoms may last for several weeks. These include:
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Dark coloured urine
  • Extreme fatigue and lassitude
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • In some cases, liver failure can occur which may be fatal. In other cases, the virus can cause a chronic liver infection that could turn into cirrhosis (a scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.

Treatment for Hepatitis B

  • Chronic Hepatitis B can be treated with medication which includes oral antiviral agents. Treatment can slow down the progression of cirrhosis and reduce the chances of liver cancer and thereby improve the possibility of long term survival.

Also Read:Ways to cope with Hepatitis

Hepatitis C

  • The Hepatitis C virus (HCV) can cause both acute and chronic infections. The virus is a blood borne one and is most commonly transmitted through:
  • The use of unsterilized or shared needles and other injection equipment
  • The reuse of medical equipment such and syringes and needles in medical facilities
  • The transfusion of unscreened and infected blood and blood products.
  • Although less common, the virus can be transmitted sexually and also passed on from an infected mother to her child.
  • Hepatitis C is not spread through breast milk, food, water and physical contact such as sharing food with an infected person, hugging, kissing etc.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C

  • The symptoms include, in varying degrees of strength:
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dark coloured urine
  • Abdominal pain
  • Grey coloured faeces
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice

Treatment for Hepatitis C

  • Hepatitis C infections often do not require treatment as the patient’s immune response may clear the infection. If it does not, medication may be required. Some patients with chronic infections do not develop liver damage.

Article by Ms. M. Vandhana
Physician Assistant
Institute of Liver Disease, Transplantation and Hepatobiliary Surgery
Kauvery Hospital