Protecting Yourself from Hepatitis
Many illnesses and conditions cause infection or inflammation of the liver, which is called hepatitis. However, there are five virus groups that result in viral hepatitis: A, B, C, D, and E. These viruses attack the liver, and some types can result in chronic hepatitis. The symptoms of acute viral hepatitis include dark yellow-orange urine, fatigue, flu-like illness, fever, and skin jaundice. Some types of viral hepatitis do not cause any symptoms, and chronic viral hepatitis diagnosis is often delayed for this reason. With prompt treatment, complications can be prevented, such as liver failure, liver cancer, and/or cirrhosis. There are vaccines and immunoglobulins to reduce exposure or eliminate the risk of certain forms of viral hepatitis, like types A and B. For other types of hepatitis, antiviral treatment drugs are extremely effective. Though not confirmed, research studies have found that several men with viral hepatitis have infertility.
The hepatitis A virus (HAV) is a self-limiting, acute condition that occurs when a person eats food or drinks fluid that is contaminated with the feces from an infected person. It can also be caused from anal-oral contact from sexual intercourse. The hepatitis A virus causes swelling of the liver, but it normally does not cause permanent liver damage. Almost every person who is infected with HAV gets better without any treatment. To prevent this virus, there is a vaccine. Risk factors for HAV include travel to foreign countries, men who have sex with men, people with hemophilia, and people with chronic liver disease.
The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a chronic infection that occurs from having sex, sharing needles, or sharing intranasal devices with an infected person. An infected mother can also transmit the virus during childbirth. This virus causes the liver to swell, but the infection is chronic or life-long. Over time, the virus can cause scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), liver failure, and/or liver cancer. The acute form of the disease gets better on its own. For chronic HBV, there are numerous drugs (antivirals) that eradicate the infection. These include lamivudine, interferon, and adefovir.
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is now considered an epidemic in America and other countries. The most common way this virus is transmitted is by sharing needles or intranasal drug devices with an infected person. Many people who have HCV do not have symptoms, so everyone should be considered to be a potential carrier. This virus also causes the liver to swell during the acute phase, and with the chronic form, liver damage occurs. This could be in the form of cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure. To prevent HCV, preventive measures include avoidance, as there is no vaccine available at this time.
The hepatitis D virus (HDV) is not as common as HBV or HCV. This infection also is transmitted from an infected person via the blood. Therefore, it occurs from sharing needles or intranasal devices, by having sex with an infected person, or otherwise coming into contact with the blood of someone with the virus. This virus also results in initial liver swelling, and can result in long-term liver damage from cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer.
The hepatitis E virus (HEV) is transmitted by eating food or drinking fluids that are contaminated with the feces of an infected person. HEV is a disease that is more common in developing and third world countries. This virus causes the liver to swell, but does not result in long-term damage. It is self-limiting and rarely requires treatment.
Prevention of Hepatitis
To prevent HAV, you can get an immune globulin shot when traveling to a region where the virus is common. This shot can also be given within two weeks after exposure. Also for both HAV and HEV prevention, wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet or before eating or preparing food.
People at risk for bloodborne viruses (B, C, and D) include health care workers, people who have a partner with HBV, men who have sex with men, anyone with multiple sex partners, those who inject or snort drugs, and people who live with a person with the disease. To prevent HBV, there is a vaccine available. It is typically given through a series of three injections over a six month time period. There is no current vaccine for HCV and HDV. To prevent HBV, HCV, and HDV, measures involve avoidance. Don't share needles or intranasal devices with anyone, avoid using other people's toothbrushes, razors, or nail clippers, and use condoms when having sex.
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