What is Hepatitis? 

Any inflammation or swelling of the liver is called Hepatitis. Heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications, diabetes, obesity and certain medical conditions can cause hepatitis. Hepatitis is often caused by a virus, which we call as Viral Hepatitis. 

What are the types of Viral Hepatitis?

There are 5 main hepatitis viruses - A, B, C, D and E. 

Hepatitis A and Hepatitis E are short term infections and are called as acute viral hepatitis. These infections predominantly spread via the faecal-oral route and are closely associated with poor sanitary and bad hygienic conditions. In India, HAV infection is common during childhood, while Hepatitis E is more common in adults. Every year during monsoons, there is a sudden spate in such cases. Infections in most cases are mildly associated with full recovery; however, few can also be severe and life-threatening, when it leads to acute liver failure (ALF). It is observed that pregnant women have a higher likelihood to get infected with Hepatitis E and have a higher propensity to develop ALF. 

Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, on the other hand, are transmitted through exposure to infective blood, semen, and other body fluids. Transmission may occur through transfusions of contaminated blood and blood products, contaminated injections during medical procedures, IV drug use, sex with an infected person and birth to an infected mother. Both Hepatitis B and C are chronic infections that may not show symptoms for years or decades. When they start showing symptoms, they already have chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis, liver failure or cancer. Hepatitis B is the second most common carcinogen after tobacco, in man. 

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis?

Acute hepatitis present with fatigue, flu-like symptoms, dark urine, pale stool, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and yellow skin and eyes. Chronic hepatitis develops slowly, so it is difficult to notice the signs & symptoms.

Myths regarding Hepatitis?

Acute Hepatitis is cured in most cases by itself and thus requires supportive care as advised by your doctor. You should not try local tactics to control jaundice, which in many cases may harm you. There is no dietary restriction and no need of taking boiled food or taking extra sugar in the form of sugarcane juice. Also, you should not stop taking yellow food products, particularly turmeric in your diet. 

There are many stigmas attached to hepatitis B and C. These viruses spread only by contact with infected body fluids and not by touching, staying together in a home or working in the same office. 

How can we prevent Viral Hepatitis?

Hepatitis A and E can be prevented by improving the sanitary conditions and provision of safe, clean drinking water. Simple methods like maintaining proper hand hygiene, avoid eating any raw or cut fruits, undercooked vegetables or nonveg products are effective methods to curtail the virus.  Vaccines are available for Hepatitis A, of which two doses are recommended to be given 6 months apart to children aged 1 year or older. 

Hepatitis B and C infection can be largely prevented by a vigilant screening of blood and blood products, routine testing of tissue and organ donors and routine screening of pregnant mothers. We should refrain from sharing drug needles, razors or toothbrushes. Adequate education regarding the usage of barrier contraceptives (e.g. condoms) and safe sexual practices need to be provided. Vaccines for Hepatitis B are available in India and should be administered to everyone at a dosing schedule of 0, 1 and 6 months. 

Viral hepatitis is affecting 325 million people globally. Let us fight for a world free from viral hepatitis. 

Dr Lovkesh Anand

Consultant- Department of Gastroenterology

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