Hepatitis is a serious inflammation of the liver that can lead to severe illness. It is often referred to as liver disease. There are several hepatitis viruses, the most common being Hepatitis A, B, and C. While they share similarities in symptoms and effect on the liver, they are spread in different ways and have unique impacts on long-term health.

Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is quite rare in developed countries. It’s generally found in areas with poor hygiene and sanitation. Typically the disease is spread by eating contaminated food or water. Symptoms like fever, nausea, fatigue, and jaundice usually appear 2-6 weeks after exposure. Hepatitis A does not cause long-term liver damage in most cases. A vaccine is available to prevent infection. With rest and proper nutrition, the illness usually clears up within 2-8 weeks.

Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is a highly infectious virus that can survive outside the body. It is transmitted through blood and bodily fluids, most commonly during unprotected sex or by sharing contaminated needles. Many may show no symptoms, while others suffer acute hepatitis with fever, fatigue, and jaundice that resolves in weeks. However, some go on to develop chronic, lifelong infection that causes progressive liver damage over decades. Treatments can help manage the virus. Prevention focuses on vaccination and using protection during sex.

Hepatitis C
The hepatitis C virus is blood-borne and mainly transmitted by sharing needles or from an infected person’s blood entering another’s bloodstream. Symptoms often don’t show in early infection or mild and flu-like. In the chronic phase, hepatitis C silently causes liver inflammation and damage over many years. Around 20% of chronic cases lead to cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver after 2o or 30 years.

Some people with cirrhosis will also develop liver cancer. Treatment aims to clear the virus using drug combinations, which continues improving outcomes. However, there is still no vaccine. Abstaining from alcohol is crucial to avoiding further liver trauma.

It’s important to note that while hepatitis C is commonly spread through intravenous drug use, the virus can also be transmitted in other ways that may surprise many people. For example, sharing personal care items like razors, toothbrushes or nail clippers has a small risk as these can draw blood. Even getting a tattoo or body piercing poses a hazard if unsterile equipment is used.

Hepatitis C is also occasionally passed from mother to baby during childbirth. The virus can linger undetected in the body for years or decades in some individuals. Anyone born between 1945-1965 is at increased risk. These are the people who received blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992 . This was the time when comprehensive screening became mandatory.

Curiously, hepatitis C is not easily transmitted through casual contact. Or even through having sex. The virus is not spread by sneezing, hugging, sharing food or drinks. However, it can potentially pass between partners if blood is present from rough sex, open sores, or during a woman’s period.

The best ways to prevent hepatitis C are to never share needles or syringes. Be cautious with personal care items that could have traces of blood, and properly clean up any spilled blood with a bleach solution. Beyond that, experts advise hepatitis C testing for anyone at risk, such as current or former drug users. Also, those born during high incidence years, recipients of blood products before 1992, or individuals with abnormal liver tests.

All forms of hepatitis are diagnosed via blood tests detecting the virus and assessing liver function.

While hepatitis A has an excellent recovery rate, B and C frequently become chronic conditions requiring lifelong monitoring and management. Thankfully, medical understanding and treatments continue advancing, transforming outcomes. The importance of preventative measures like hygiene, safe needle practices, and vaccination cannot be overstated.

Hepatitis remains a major global health concern. Being informed about transmission risks, symptoms, diagnostic testing, and new treatments is key. If you have any concerns about hepatitis exposure or your liver health, consult a medical professional. Detecting infection early provides the best chance at effectively managing these viruses and preserving liver function long-term.

Photo by julien Tromeur on Unsplash

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