Viral hepatitis describes multiple viruses that cause serious damage to the liver. Although each form is different, all versions of the virus cause inflammation and lead to abnormal function of the liver.
There are two major forms of hepatitis: acute hepatitis and chronic hepatitis. All forms of the hepatitis virus have similar symptoms but contain several critical differences. Patients suffering from hepatitis A frequently recover or improve without treatment and the condition does not become a permanent one. Hepatitis B and C, however, are usually present in chronic ones, resulting in long-term liver damage or the occasional acute exacerbation. An additional key distinction is that, unlike forms A and B, hepatitis C has no vaccine.
Hepatitis A may be caused by contaminated water, eating contaminated raw shellfish, eating food handled by an individual who has not washed their hands after using the toilet, or close contact with an infected person. Hepatitis B is often transmitted sexually, through the use of shared needles, or from a pregnant mother to her child during birth. This is called a vertical transmission. Hepatitis C, the most dangerous of the three, is usually only transmitted by contact with infected blood, by blood transmission, by the sharing of needles or in rare cases it may also be transmitted through sexual intercourse.
Effective vaccines are available to guard against both hepatitis A and B.Vaccinations against the B strain is often mandatory, and doctors usually only recommend vaccinations against the A strain to individuals who use illegal drugs, share needles, are traveling to high-risk areas of the world, have chronic liver disease, or are men who have sex with men. If you are concerned, ask for the vaccine regardless. Practicing safe sex and maintaining good hygiene practices (drinking bottled water in high-risk parts of the world, including Thailand; peeling and washing all fresh fruits and vegetables; staying away from under-cooked seafood and meat) can help.
During the acute phase of the disease fatigue, low-grade fevers, dark urine, joint pain, abdominal discomfort, vomiting and nausea, and jaundice are all possible symptoms of the various hepatitis viruses. Unfortunately, some hepatitis virus types (such as hepatitis C) show no significant symptoms during the acute phase before turning chronic. Chronic hepatitis can be diagnosed mainly by abnormal liver chemistry and serologic tests.
If you are at all concerned that you might be exhibiting symptoms of hepatitis, or even if you have been participating in high-risk activities or traveling to certain areas of the world, take the time to get screened. Lifestyle changes and treatments may at least slow down the damage to your liver. Being aware of the disease can also prevent you from spreading it to those close to you.
M.D., Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University. Faculty of Medicine Chulalongkorn University , 1999