Hepatitis

Hepatitis A is an infection which causes inflammation of the liver and is caused by viruses that are transmitted via sexual contact, infected blood, semen and vaginal fluids. It does occur in the UK but is more common in countries that have poor sanitation and sewage disposal. The incubation period is two and six weeks.

Hepatitis B is a virus that is present in body fluids such as blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluid, it is 100 times more infectious than HIV so many people do not realise they have been infected. This is because symptoms may not develop immediately and sometimes not at all.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne viral infection and can rarely be transmitted through other body fluids, such as through having unprotected sex. Approximately 20% of people will fight the infection naturally and clear it from their bodies within two to six months.

 

How is it passed on?

Hepatitis A is mainly caught by putting something in your mouth that has been contaminated with the faeces of someone with the virus.

Hepatitis B is transmitted through unprotected sex or by sharing needles to inject drugs. Mothers who are infected with Hepatitis B can also pass the virus to their baby during childbirth.

Hepatitis C is passed on by blood to blood contact, drug users sharing needles are particularly at high risk and rarely can it be transmitted through other body fluids, such as through having unprotected sex.

 

Symptoms

Hepatitis A varies in length and severity. The symptoms you need to be aware of for hepatitis A and B are:

  • flu-like symptoms, such as tiredness, general aches and pains, headaches and fever
  • loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhoea
  • abdominal pains
  • jaundice, which occurs because your inflamed liver is unable to remove bilirubin in the blood that causes your skin and the whites of your eyes to become yellow.

Once you have recovered from hepatitis A you are then immune from it and cannot catch the virus again. Many people who have hepatitis B as adults will clear the infection and become immune but it becomes chronic when you have been infected for longer than six months. Carriers with no symptoms, remain healthy while clearing the virus from their bodies. They may not even know they have been affected.

Hepatitis C is cleared from the body by the immune system within six months for 20% of cases, but the virus can stay active (chronic hepatitis C) in the body, the carrier may not show any symptoms throughout their life, but they can pass the virus on to others by sharing needles, toothbrushes or razors.

Some people with chronic hepatitis C will develop some symptoms of liver damage, such as:

  • weight loss
  • muscle aches
  • tiredness
  • nausea
  • alcohol intolerance
  • pain over the liver
  • jaundice
  1. Approximately 20% of those with chronic hepatitis C develop cirrhosis, scarring of the liver, over a period of about 20-30 years.

 

Treatment

Hepatitis A and Acute Hepatitis B are not treated with anything specific as most people recover completely within a couple of months.

Chronic hepatitis B can be treated with an antiviral medication called interferon. Which will prevent the virus causing excessive liver damage. Interferon is given by injection three times a week for around six months.

The treatment used to treat hepatitis C is usually a combination of two drugs, interferon and ribavirin. If the treatment does not clear the virus, then it will slow down the progression of inflammation and liver damage. Treatment usually lasts for six or twelve months.

 

Sourced from NHS-CKS