The hepatitis virus is an infection that causes liver inflammation. The disease comes in numerous strains, including hepatitis A, B, C, D and E, all differing in terms of how they can be contracted as well as how they affect the body. In addition to liver inflammation, the virus can also cause irreparable liver damage, meaning that this vital organ is unable to function normally. If left untreated, a hepatitis infection can cause chronic liver inflammation that may result in liver cirrhosis and place the sufferer at a greater risk of developing liver cancer.
Hepatitis A occurs as a result of the hepatitis A virus (HAV) which can be contracted through contact with contaminated food, drinks or objects. The infection attaches itself to the intestines before gradually spreading into the liver, leading to liver inflammation around 1-2 weeks after the initial infection. Such an infection causes exhaustion, loss of appetite and jaundice. Infections that are not treated properly could eventually result in liver failure and loss of life.
People who have recovered from a hepatitis A infection will be immune to this specific form of the disease thereafter, as are those with an immunity to the virus, including those who have received a hepatitis vaccination.
Vaccinating against hepatitis A can offer almost 100% protection against the disease, with the immunity gained from such a procedure lasting for the duration of the recipient’s lifetime. Vaccines can be given from the age of one and above, which is generally the age at which parents start to take their child outside with greater frequency, or the time when they may begin attending an educational institute of some form, both of which could place them at increased risk of coming into contact with contaminated food, drinks or object.
The vaccination process is a 2-time course of injections, each one six months apart. Adults without immunity to the hepatitis A vaccination may receive a 2-time course of injections 6-12 months apart or according to the advice and recommendations of their doctor.
Hepatitis B occurs as a result of contracting the hepatitis B virus (HBV), with this form of the disease being especially dangerous due to the risk of it leading to chronic liver inflammation, liver failure, liver cirrhosis and liver cancer if not treated properly. The disease may be contracted through birth as well as through contact with contaminated blood or the wound of someone suffering from the disease. Sexual contact and the shared use of sharp objects or certain personal effects, including syringes, razors and toothbrushes, can also place a person at risk of contracting hepatitis B.
This could quite conceivably be referred to as the first ever cancer vaccination due to its ability to prevent the liver cancer that results from a hepatitis B infection, which accounts for up to 80% of all liver cancer cases. Moreover, liver cancer is the second largest cause of death from all forms of cancer worldwide.
The hepatitis B vaccination is made up of proteins from the surface of the HBsAg virus cells which cause a hepatitis B infection. However, the amount administered in the vaccination stimulates the body into producing effective antibodies against the disease. The vaccination can be administered at birth, with the 3-time injection course being the same as the one given to adults. The second injection should be given a month after the first, while the third injection should be administered five months after the second.
Once a person has received all three hepatitis B vaccination injections, it has generally been found that the body builds up to a 97% immunity against the disease which then lasts for the duration of that person’s life. However, 1-2 months after the final of the 3-time course of injections has been completed, the patient should undertake a blood test to analyze the presence of hepatitis B immunity and, where no such immunity is identified, medical staff may consider additional vaccinations.
Due to each hepatitis virus differing greatly from one another, hepatitis vaccinations for each individual strain can only offer protection against that specific type of virus. Therefore, where a person requires any form of hepatitis vaccination, they should be sure to receive the vaccination that is most appropriate to their unique circumstances. Fortunately, there are currently vaccinations that provide protection against both hepatitis A and B within the same injection. Find out more about these vaccinations by consulting your doctor or visiting a hospital that offers such treatment.
Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University , 2009