What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver. It can be caused by viruses (five different viruses – termed A, B, C, D, and E cause viral Hepatitis), bacterial infections, or continuous exposure to alcohol, drugs, or toxic chemicals, such as those found in aerosol sprays and paint thinners, or as a result of an autoimmune disorder. Hepatitis results in either damage or reduction in the liver’s ability to perform life–preserving functions, including filtering harmful, infectious agents from the blood, storing blood sugar and converting it to usable energy forms, and producing many proteins necessary for life.

Symptoms seen in Hepatitis differ according to the cause and the overall health of the infected individual. And, sometimes, the symptoms can be very mild. The commonly seen clinical features are general weakness and fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, fever, abdominal pain and tenderness. The main feature is the presence of jaundice – a yellowing of the skin and eyes that occurs when the liver fails to break down excess yellow–colored bile pigments in the blood.

Depending on the progress and intensity, Hepatitis can be categorized as acute or chronic. In acute Hepatitis, clinical features often subside without treatment within a few weeks or months. But, about 5% of the cases go on to develop into chronic Hepatitis, which may last for years. Chronic Hepatitis slowly leads to progressive liver damage and cirrhosis.

Hepatitis A Hepatitis is a self–limiting disease that is found all across the world. It is usually transmitted through oral ingestion of infected material (mainly water), but sometimes transmitted parenterally, most cases resemble the symptoms of a mild flu attack and jaundice is mild too.

Hepatitis B Hepatitis is an acute viral disease. It primarily spreads parenterally, but sometimes orally as well. But, the main mode of spread is intimate contact and from mother to the neonate. Fever, anorexia, nausea, vomiting are the initial symptoms, and they soon lead to severe jaundice, urticarial skin lesions, arthritis etc. Some patients become carriers or even remain chronically ill, even though most patients recover in about three to four months.

Hepatitis C Hepatitis C is a viral disease commonly occurring after transfusion or parenteral drug abuse. It frequently progresses to a chronic form that is usually asymptomatic, but may involve liver cirrhosis.

Hepatitis D Hepatitis D or Delta Hepatitis is caused by the Hepatitis D virus. It usually occurs simultaneously with, or as a superinfection in Hepatitis B, thus increasing its severity.

Hepatitis E Hepatitis E is transmitted by the oral–fecal route, usually by contaminated water. Chronic infection does not occur but acute infection may be fatal in pregnant women.

Diagnosis In case the diagnostic symptoms of Hepatitis – including an enlarged and tender liver, jaundice, and fatigue – are present, blood and urine are tested for increased levels of bile. A Liver Function Test (LFT) is performed. A liver biopsy may be done to examine the liver tissue.

Prevention Vaccines are now available against Hepatitis A and B infections. People who have not been vaccinated but are exposed to Hepatitis may benefit from injections of immuno globulin, a mixture of proteins in blood serum. Immunoglobulin injections can prevent Hepatitis A and B infections, if they are given within two weeks of exposure. There are currently no vaccines available to prevent infection with HCV, HEV, and HGV. The best protection against these viruses is to avoid high risk activities, including preventing exposure to body fluids of infected individuals, and always washing of hands after using the toilet or changing an infant’s diapers.