Health awareness can make the difference between a timely diagnostic of a treatable condition and serious complications from neglected symptoms. This is why at Agile Urgent Care, we keep track of the health awareness calendar every month. Today, we talk about one of the most common afflictions diagnosed by doctors all over the world: hepatitis. In Latin, hepatia is the word for liver. Hepatitis is derived from that and describes an affliction of the liver. The word liver in itself has an interesting etymology as well, which would suggest that it is the most important organ for living. The word is derived from the verb to live in both English and German (Leber – leben; liver – to live).
Indeed, liver is one of the most important internal organs and hepatitis is a somewhat general term that describes all diseases of this organ. But there are many types of hepatitis and many different causes for its’ appearance. The most important distinction is between viral hepatitis, which you can contract from infected food or water or from sexual contact with infected individuals, and non-infectious hepatitis, which is often caused by alcoholism or other toxic substance abuse.
Which are the main types of viral hepatitis? What can I do to prevent them?
- Hepatitis A – if you remember our post about travel vaccines and medication, you are already aware that it is not uncommon to contract this virus from contaminated food or water. This is why we suggested drinking only bottled water and eating food that is cooked at high temperatures when you are travelling to developing countries. There is a vaccine against the virus, which has to be taken in two doses, 6 months apart, in order for it to be effective. However, immunity is not life-long, but it should last for at least 10 years. In case of contamination, the disease is short term and shouldn’t lead to anything else than the discomfort of diarrhoea and/or vomiting. It is not life-threatening if there is no other underlying liver condition.
- Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are both transmitted through bodily fluids. The most common way to contract it is through unprotected sexual contact, injection drug use with infected needles, getting into contact with infected blood or getting a tattoo or a piercing in an unregulated location. Unfortunately, these infections will likely lead to incurable chronic conditions, which affect an estimate of 4-5 million Americans today. While the vaccine against Hepatitis B should be given to all newborns within hours of birth, there is no vaccine yet for Hepatitis C.
- Hepatitis D is very rare and occurs only in conjunction with Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis E is also rare, and in most cases the condition is relieved automatically within 2-6 weeks. However, the WHO warns that in areas with poor water sanitation, there are an estimated 3.3 million symptomatic cases worldwide. In some cases, the disease can lead to liver failure.
Viral hepatitis is very serious and we should take precautions against it. According to the WHO, there are more than 1.3 million deaths worldwide due to viral infections of the liver. Some patients are successfully treated even for some of the most severe forms of hepatitis, but the majority develop chronic conditions. So it’s better to be aware of the risks and take precautions:
- Good hygiene is the key to avoid hepatitis
- Safe sex can prevent some forms of hepatitis being transmitted
- Vaccines are a good precaution, especially if you are traveling