ABC Medical Center > Digital magazine > What is hepatitis?

What is hepatitis?

15 July 2020


Key points:

  • Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by multiple viruses.

  • There are 5 types of hepatitis ranging from mild illness to severe infection.

  • Vaccination is the best way to prevent most of these viruses.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can occur spontaneously or progress to fibrosis, cirrhosis, or liver cancer. Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause, although they can also be caused by other infections, toxic substances (such as alcohol or certain drugs), or autoimmune diseases.

Five hepatitis viruses have been identified, designated by the letters A, B, C, D, and E, all of which cause liver disease but are distinguished by several important characteristics.

Hepatitis A

Infection is caused by virus A (HAV) that is transmitted by contact with the feces of infected people. It can occur from directly touching feces or from consuming food such as vegetables, fruits, or water contaminated by fecal material.

Its most common symptoms include fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). They usually appear between 2 and 6 weeks after exposure. However, some people have mild or no symptoms and do not realize they are sick.

The best way to prevent hepatitis A is vaccination. Vaccination is recommended for all children from the first year of age and for people at high risk of infection (including those who frequently travel to countries where HAV is common).

Hepatitis B

It is a consequence of the transmission of the HBV virus through blood and body fluids. Some people infected with hepatitis B develop a chronic infection and become carriers who can infect other people.

People with this infection are at risk of liver cancer and liver cirrhosis, and most contract the infection at birth or in early childhood.

Most cases solve on their own, require no treatment, and result in lifelong immunity. Vaccination can reduce the chance of hepatitis B infection. Newborns should receive their first dose at birth.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is an infection caused by the HCV virus. It is a slowly progressive disease, usually without symptoms that can take 20 to 30 years to cause serious damage to the liver. About three-quarters of people infected with this virus develop long-term chronic hepatitis.

It is spread primarily through direct contact with the blood of an infected person. It is not spread by sneezing, hugging or kissing a person, coughing, breastfeeding, food or water, or any other casual contact.

Most infected people have no symptoms. If they do occur, they can be very mild, nonspecific, and intermittent.

There is no vaccine to prevent infection or spread of HCV. Instead, testing for hepatitis C is recommended for people who:

  • Have used injection drugs or shared needles.
  • Have received clotting factors before 1987
  • Received blood or organ transplants before July 1992
  • Have been treated with hemodialysis.
  • Have liver disease of uncertain cause.
  • Have been pricked with a needle with HCV-positive blood.
  • Are 12 to 18 months old and whose mother is HCV positive.

Hepatitis D

D virus infections (HDV) only occur in people infected with hepatitis B, a simultaneous infection with both viruses can cause a more serious condition and have a worse outcome. Currently, there are safe and effective hepatitis B vaccines that protect against hepatitis D infection.

Hepatitis E

This virus, like that of hepatitis A, is transmitted by consuming contaminated water or food. It is the common cause of epidemic outbreaks of hepatitis in developing areas and is increasingly recognized as a major cause of disease in developed countries. It can also be prevented through vaccination.

At ABC Medical Center we have various comprehensive medical evaluation programs specifically aimed at different segments of the population.

At ABC Medical Center’s Department of Preventive Medicine we can provide you with specialized care. Contact us!

How can we help you?