Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver due to a viral infection. Although categorized generically as liver disease, there are many differences between the types of hepatitis including virus type, transmission route, and treatment protocols.
The one similarity all hepatitis types share is the fact that it is possible you might have hepatitis and not realize it at first.
Sometimes there are no symptoms present alerting you that you are ill. Other times the symptoms mirror the flu and may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Mild fever
- Muscle or joint aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain in your belly
Today we will take a brief look at the most common types of Hepatitis: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. You will learn the basic differences between each of the three types and the best ways to treat each kind.
What You Need to Know about Hepatitis
Hepatitis A is a food and water borne illness that causes inflammation of the liver.
You often show no signs of having this virus and should be aware that it is highly contagious. You can spread the illness approximately 2 weeks before any symptoms show and during the first week they do show.
Routes of Transmission
If you drink water or ingest food that has been contaminated with fecal water containing the virus you risk infection. Raw shellfish harvested from contaminated water and contaminated ice will also put you at risk for contracting Hepatitis A.
Close contact with an infected person, including sexual contact, will help spread the infection.
Those at Risk
Often those traveling to other parts of the world have an increased chance of contracting Hepatitis A. Men who have had sex with other men, those with a blood clotting issue, people injecting illegal drugs, and anyone with long-term liver disease are also at a heightened risk for infection.
Hepatitis A Treatment Options
This hepatitis virus rarely causes long term problems or complications. However, according to the Center for Disease Control, 10-15% of people who become infected with Hepatitis A will have recurring symptoms over a long period of time before the illness is completely gone.
This can damage the liver significantly and may eventually require you to receive a liver transplant via an expert Maryland liver surgeon.
As of now, there are no medications that can cure Hepatitis A. Fortunately, the antibodies your body produces during the infection provides lifelong prevention against the disease. Once you recover, there is no chance of getting Hepatitis A again.
Your best defense against contracting Hepatitis A in the first place is to receive the Hepatitis A vaccination. Given in doses, this vaccine has helped reduce the infection rates in the United States by 95% since first administering it in 1995.
This vaccine is recommended for all children ages 1 and older, any person at risk for infection, those with pre-existing liver disease that may experience increased complications from infections, and anyone else wishing to receive immunity from the disease.
Check here for a detailed timeline and other essential information related to the Hepatitis A vaccination.
Hepatitis B is a blood borne infection that infects the liver.
This virus can cause either acute infections or chronic infections, mainly based on the age of the infected person. Approximately 90% of infected infants will develop chronic infections whereas only 2-6% of adults will become chronically infected after their initial infection.
Routes of Transmission
Hepatitis B is passed from an infected person to another via blood or other bodily fluids.
Those at Risk
Since this virus is spread via contact with blood or other bodily fluids, those most at risk include:
- Those having unprotected sexual contact with an infected person.
- People who share needles (i.e. for injection of illegal drugs) with an infected person.
- Those getting tattoos or piercings with unsterilized and infected needles.
- People who share personal items such as toothbrushes or razors with another who is infected.
- A mother who is infected can pass it along to her baby during childbirth. (*Note – medical professionals encourage all pregnant women to get tested for Hepatitis B as there are medications that can be administered to protect transmission of the virus to the child.)
Hepatitis B Treatment Options
Even if left untreated, many times Hepatitis B goes away on its own. You can relieve common symptoms much like you would the flu: rest, increased fluid intake, healthy eating, and avoiding alcohol or other drugs in order to prevent further damage to the liver.
Take care to speak with your physician about some over the counter medications that may cause more liver damage due to the Hepatitis B infection.
Chronic Hepatitis B infections are a global problem affecting more than 240 million people worldwide. An estimated 786,000 people die every year from Hepatitis B-related liver disease each year.
Should you have chronic Hepatitis B, the long-term damage to your liver can be severe and can include cirrhosis or liver cancer. This damage can lead you to require a liver surgery and possibly a liver transplant via your certified Maryland liver surgeon in lieu of liver failure.
However, most people with chronic Hepatitis B can live normal active lives. Through the use of special medications to help keep the infection controlled and with regular checkups to watch for further liver damage, you and your doctor can develop an appropriate treatment plan.
The best treatment option for Hepatitis B is getting the vaccination to prevent infection. Administered in a series of 3-4 shots, adults at risk, all babies, children, and teenagers should be vaccinated.
Additionally, there is a dual vaccine that protects against both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B called Twinrix.
Keep in mind that since 1991 Hepatitis B infections have seen an 85% decrease since the introduction of the vaccine where routine vaccination of all children was first recommended.
There are many different forms of the Hepatitis C virus, all of which affect the liver and its functionality.
The most commonly found Hepatitis C virus in the United States is type 1. Though none are more serious than any other, each virus type responds differently to treatment and must be handled accordingly.
Routes of Transmission
This virus, much like Hepatitis B, is a spread through blood or bodily fluids of an infected person to another.
This virus can be contracted through infected needle sticks, sexual contact, and during childbirth (a mother can pass the infection to her baby).
Those at Risk
Approximately 3.2 million people nationwide have Hepatitis C. Unfortunately, as with the other Hepatitis virus types, most people do not know they are infected because no symptoms have ever appeared.
Those at risk for having Hepatitis C include:
- Those who have received a blood transfusion from a donor infected with the disease.
- Anyone having injected drugs.
- Someone who received an organ transplant before July 1992.
- Someone who received a blood product to treat clotting issues before 1987.
- Those born between the years of 1945-1965.
- Anyone diagnosed with HIV.
- Anyone on long-term kidney dialysis.
- Children born to mothers who have Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C Treatment Options
Treatment options for Hepatitis C have changed a lot over the years. One, although very expensive option, is the medication Harvoni. Thought to cure up to 99% of all patients with the Hepatitis C virus, this medication has shown to be promising in helping those infected regain their overall health.
Should Harvoni prove to be too expensive, there are other medicinal options.
Your physician may be able to prescribe other medication combinations to help alleviate some of the adverse effects of Hepatitis C while keeping the infection at bay. These include such medications as: Victrelis, Olysio, Sovaldi, a Viekira Pak (a combination of several drugs treatments), or even Interferon or Ribavirin. You and your doctor can discuss the best treatment options available and develop a plan to control your Hepatitis C infection.
Unfortunately, at this current time there are no available vaccinations against contracting Hepatitis C. Though researchers are working diligently to develop such a vaccine, Hepatitis C has been proven to cause many difficulties.
As there are many different types of the Hepatitis C virus, along with its ability to mutate quickly and efficiently into all different shapes and sizes, it has been a challenge to create a vaccine to prevent all types of Hepatitis C infection.
Contracting a Hepatitis virus has the possibility of causing severe damage to your liver. Understanding the basic differences between Hepatitis A, B, and C can help you and your physician determine the best treatment options for you.
If you or someone you love have an advanced Hepatitis infection and is in need of a specialized liver surgeon, consider contacting Dr. Mark Fraiman.
Treating patients at all stages of liver disease, Dr. Fraiman can guarantee a patient-oriented approach that maximizes positive results.