The word hepatitis comes from the Ancient Greek word ‘hepar’ meaning ‘liver’, and the Latin ‘itis’ meaning ‘inflammation’. Hepatitis means injury to the liver with inflammation of the liver cells.
Hepatitis may occur with limited or no symptoms, but often leads to jaundice, anorexia (poor appetite) and malaise. Hepatitis is acute when it lasts less than six months and chronic when it persists longer. A group of viruses known as the hepatitis viruses cause most cases of hepatitis worldwide, but it can also be due to toxins (notably alcohol, certain medications and plants), other infections and autoimmune diseases.
Your liver helps your body digest food, store energy and remove poisons. Hepatitis is a swelling of the liver that makes it stop working well. It can lead to scarring, called cirrhosis, or cancer.
Viruses cause most cases of hepatitis. The type of hepatitis is named for the virus that causes it; for example, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatitis D or hepatitis E. Drug or alcohol use can also lead to hepatitis. In other cases, your body mistakenly attacks its own tissues. You can help prevent some viral forms by getting a vaccine. Sometimes hepatitis goes away by itself. If it does not, it can be treated with drugs. Sometimes hepatitis lasts a lifetime.
The Big Five?
Here’s help in keeping the alphabet soup of hepatitis straight: five viruses that cause hepatitis.
Facts: Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. This is an inflammation of the liver that is not severe and runs an acute course. This generally starts within two to six weeks after contact with the virus, and lasts no longer than two months. It is known as infectious hepatitis because it spreads relatively easy from those infected to close contact.
Facts: Hepatitis B is the inflammation of the liver caused by hepatitis B virus. A universal disease, which causes a serious health problem. This is considered to be more serious than hepatitis A due to the possibility of severe complications such as massive damage and hepatocarcinoma of the liver. Transmission of hepatitis B virus results from exposure to infectious blood or body fluids. The acute illness causes liver inflammation, vomiting, jaundice and rarely, death. Chronic hepatitis B may eventually cause liver cirrhosis and liver cancer—a fatal disease with very poor response to current chemotherapy.
Facts: Hepatitis C is usually spread through direct contact with the blood of a person who has the disease. Hepatitis C is also a common threat in kidney dialysis centers. Rarely, people living with an infected person can contract the disease by sharing items that might contain that person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C yet, so it is important to reduce the risk of infection by not coming into contact with infected blood and following simple rules of prevention.
Facts: Hepatitis D is a unique virus that can only infect someone already infected with hepatitis B. Infection is through contact with infected blood, unprotected sex, and perforation of the skin with infected needles. The liver of a person with Hepatitis D swells. Around 5% of people with hepatitis B also have hepatitis D.
Facts: Hepatitis E is very common in many developing countries, and can spread to developed countries through normal travel and immigration. A person can become infected by drinking water that contains HEV (Hepatitis E Virus). There is no vaccine available yet, but avoiding contaminated food and water, and practicing frequent handwashing are excellent ways to prevent infection.
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