“Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver, which can be caused by toxins, certain drugs, heavy alcohol use and bacterial or viral infections,” explains Dr Bobby John. He is Executive Director at Global Health Advocates (GHA) who takes us through the types of hepatitis virus and the causes or risk factors of hepatitis.
Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is usually transmitted by the faecal-oral route, either through person-to-person contact or ingestion of contaminated food or water. Infections are in many cases mild, with most people making a full recovery and remaining immune from further HAV infections. However, HAV infections can also be severe and life threatening. Most people in areas of the world with poor sanitation have been infected with this virus.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is transmitted through exposure to infectious blood, semen and other body fluids. HBV can be transmitted from infected mothers to infants at the time of birth, or from family members to infants in early childhood. Transmission may also occur through unsafe sexual intercourse, transfusions of HBV-infected blood and blood products, contaminated injections during medical procedures, and sharing of needles and syringes among injecting drug users. HBV also poses a risk to healthcare workers who sustain accidental needle-stick injuries while caring for HBV-infected people. A safe and effective vaccine is available to prevent HBV infection.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is mostly transmitted through exposure to infectious blood. This may happen through transfusions of HCV-infected blood and blood products, contaminated injections during medical procedures, and sharing of needles and syringes among injecting drug users. Sexual or interfamilial transmission is also possible, but is much less common. There is no vaccine against HCV. Both HBV and HCV can cause cancer to humans.
Antiviral agents against HBV and HCV exist. Treatment of HBV infection has been shown to reduce the risk of developing liver cancer and death. HCV is generally considered to be a curable disease but for many people this is not the reality. Access to treatment remains a constraint in many parts of the world.
Hepatitis D virus (HDV) infections occur exclusively in persons infected with HBV. The dual infection of HDV and HBV can result in more serious disease and worse outcomes. The hepatitis B vaccine provides protection from HDV infection.
Hepatitis E virus (HEV), like HAV, is transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food. HEV is a common cause of hepatitis outbreaks in the developing world and is increasingly recognised as an important cause of disease in developed countries. HEV infection is associated with increased morbidity and mortality in pregnant women and newborns.
From the Hepatitis family of viral infections, the most common and serious is the Hepatitis B & C virus (HBV & HCV).
Dr. Bobby John states that the risk factors for the contracting hepatitis include, “The HCV virus is transmitted through contaminated blood, medical equipment, including infected needles and through injecting drug use (IDU). Being a relatively new virus first identified in 1989 and there is no vaccine for HCV yet.”
“Most people who were infected long ago with HBV or HCV are unaware of their chronic infection or their high risk of developing severe chronic liver disease. Unknowingly they transmit the infection to other people. Hence, today, we are experiencing a silent epidemic. Additionally, the HCV being asymptomatic does not help detect it at an early stage.”
The article appeared in healthmeup.com on March 4th, 2014.