Many people have heard of Hepatitis, but not everyone is clear on what exactly the viral disease does. Hepatitis is inflammation in the liver that is traditionally contracted through a viral infection with all variations of Hepatitis sharing the symptoms of stomach pains, fatigue, nausea and jaundice which is a condition that causes the skin to yellow. While there are treatments available and in some cases an infected person may not experience any symptoms, that does not make the severity of Hepatitis any less serious.
It is also important to know that Hepatitis effects minorities at a higher rate than the rest of the national population. In particular, African Americans and Pacific Islanders account for over half of the total cases of Hepatitis B despite only being roughly 6% of the population. If that was not serious enough, over 67% of people that have Hepatitis B do not know that they have it putting themselves and others at even more risk. In order to prevent this disease from spreading further it is important to identify the risk factors and outline the dangers that are associated with Hepatitis in all its forms.
Types of Hepatitis
- Hepatitis A virus (HAV): Occurs when a person ingests the virus by coming in close contact with someone who has the disease or when they eat contaminated food. Cases can last up to 2 months and can be prevented with a vaccine.
- Hepatitis B virus (HBV): Is spread when bodily fluids from an infected person enters the body of someone else. Not all people with HBV experience symptoms but it can become a chronic illness that can lead to other serious inflictions including liver cancer. There is a vaccine for this form of the virus.
- Hepatitis C virus (HCV): HCV occurs when the blood of an infected person enters the body of someone else. In more than half the cases of HCV this becomes a long-term chronic infection that can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. While most people do not experience symptoms with this form of Hepatitis by the time they manifest themselves it is often a sign of advanced liver disease. There is no vaccine for HCV.
- Hepatitis D virus (HDV): This form of Hepatitis occurs within someone with Hepatitis B and their blood is passed to someone who is not infected. HDV can be a short-term infection, but when it becomes a chronic condition it can result in permanent liver damage and even death. There is no vaccine for HDV, but the HBV vaccine can help protect you from the disease.
- Hepatitis E virus (HEV): This is the most uncommon for of Hepatitis but it is found in the feces of an infected person and is often contracted by drinking contaminated water or eating undercooked meats. While there is no vaccine for HEV most people make a full recovery.
The first step in combating Hepatitis is practicing good hygiene and getting vaccinated as preemptive measure. If you are unfortunately infected with the disease, be sure to get tested if you experience symptoms and get regular blood tests in case you are asymptomatic. Whittier Street Health Center’s Infectious Disease and Special Populations Department can provide patients with screenings for Hepatitis C and are available on a walk-in basis. If you are curious about learning more we encourage you to call our hotline at (617)-308-0060.
On World Hepatitis Day we hope that everyone takes a moment to exam their health habits in addition to taking the steps necessary to protect themselves from this very serious disease.
*Information and statistics were provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.