July 28th is world hepatitis awareness day. The word hepatitis is derived from the Latin prefix “hepa-,” meaning liver and the Greek suffix “-itis,” meaning inflammation. When the liver becomes inflamed, it affects its ability to function normally. The liver is responsible for a variety of processes including removing toxins, producing bile, processing medications, and creating proteins to aid in blood clotting.
When the livers functions are impaired, it can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored stools, easy bleeding, and yellowing of the eyes and skin.
Causes and Types of Hepatitis
There are many causes of hepatitis including viruses, alcohol, medications, and chronic diseases. Viruses and alcohol use are the most common causes of hepatitis.
There are five main types of viral hepatitis: A, B, C, D, E. There are vaccines for hepatitis A and B. Hepatitis A is most commonly transmitted by consuming food that has been contaminated by feces of someone infected by the virus, this is usually through the form of poor hand hygiene and subsequent handling of food products.
Hepatitis B and C are transmitted through contact with bodily fluids containing the virus. They both can cause acute and chronic illnesses. Some people are able to clear the acute infection and develop antibodies while others have a chronic illness. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommends all people born between 1945 and 1965, among other populations, to be tested for hepatitis C. A 2016 study published in the British Medical Journal, The Lancet, cites high rate of transmission of hepatitis C between 1940-1960 due to re-use of metal and glass syringes. There are a variety of treatment options available for both viruses, but they require further blood tests and possibly a liver biopsy to determine which, if any, treatment is appropriate.
Hepatitis D requires the presence of Hepatitis B in order to cause disease, and it can result in either an acute or chronic infection. Hepatitis E is most commonly transmitted in developing countries by consuming water contaminated with feces and in developed countries by consuming undercooked pork and deer.
Alcohol consumption can also cause hepatitis. Infrequent, moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages allows time for the liver to heal and ‘reset’ its functions, however, binge drinking or frequent chronic consumption can dramatically alter the livers capacity to process toxins, leading to permanent liver damage.
For more information on viral hepatitis, hepatitis vaccines, and travel related vaccine recommendations visit www.cdc.gov.
This article was written by Richmond-based Hospitalist Suganya Manivannan, MD.