It’s World Hepatitis Day and so I’d like to briefly explore what Hepatitis is. Before research for this post, I didn’t know that there were so many types of hepatitis and that for some of them, especially autoimmune, the causes are unknown.

Hepatitis is the term used to describe inflammation of the liver. The causes are viral infection or liver damage by alcohol. The type determines whether the hepatitis will

pass overtime or whether it will be chronic and lead to scarring of liver tissue called cirrhosis, loss of liver function and sometime liver cancer [1].

Acute hepatitis has no noticeable symptoms so may go unnoticed but if symptoms develop they could include muscle and joint pain, high temperatures, abdominal pain, dark coloured urine, itchy skin and feeling tired a lot. Chronic hepatitis may also lead to liver failure that may only be picked up in blood tests [1] and late stages it can cause jaundice, swelling in legs and feet and confusion.

There are seven types of hepatitis [1]:

A- Is caused by the hepatitis A virus which is usually caught by consuming something that is contaminated with the excretion of an infected person. It usually passes in a few months and there is no specific treatment but the itching and nausea symptoms can be relieved.

B- The hepatitis B virus is spread in the blood of the infected person. It is usually spread from a pregnant mother to their baby, by child-child contact, unprotected sex and by sharing injection needles. Most adults infected with are able to fight it off but children develop chronic hepatitis and so there is a hepatitis B vaccine for children now part of the routine immunisation programme.

C- This virus is the most common type of hepatitis in the UK and is most commonly spread to sharing needle used to inject drugs. People are usually unaware that they are infected as the symptoms are typical flu-like symptoms. ¼ people fight off the infection but in remaining cases it will last for years, becoming chronic. There are no vaccines available but antiviral medications are effective.

D- The hepatitis D virus relies on the individual already having a hepatitis B since it relies on hepatitis B being able to survive in the body. It spread by blood to blood or sexual contact and the long term infection of hepatitis B and D increases the risk of the infection going chronic and leading to liver cancer.

E- Hepatitis E virus is associated with the consumption of raw/ uncooked pork, offal, game and shellfish. It is a short term infection that doesn’t require treatment unless the individual has a weakened immune system.

Alcoholic- This form of hepatitis is due to excessive drinking over many years which goes unnoticed but can cause sudden jaundice and liver failure. If the individual stops drinking or doesn’t drink more than 14 units a week [1]the liver can be allowed to recover, but a continued drinking can lead to cirrhosis.

Autoimmune- This is a rare form of hepatitis where the immune system attacks the liver, sometimes to a point where the liver stops functioning properly. Causes and treatments are unknown but there are ongoing clinical trials in all types of hepatitis.

[1]http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Hepatitis/Pages/Introduction.aspx

[2] http://www.who.int/features/qa/76/en/

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