No, hepatitis is not just a word that is applicable and limited to countries which are densely populated, have poor infrastructure and a shortage of clean water; it is a disease that is a reality in our community today.
Hepatitis is an inflammation, or swelling, of the liver. Viruses, alcohol, drugs (including prescription medications), or poisons can also cause hepatitis.
It is a very common disease and can affect people even if their immune systems are healthy. Hepatitis can lead to serious scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver and liver failure, which can be fatal.
Many cases of hepatitis aren’t treated because people either don’t feel sick at all, or think they have the flu. The most common symptoms are loss of appetite, fatigue, fever, body aches, nausea and vomiting, and stomach pain. Some people may have dark urine, light-coloured bowel movements, and a yellowing of the skin or of the eyes (jaundice).
Scientists have identified five types of viruses that can cause hepatitis. They are called hepatitis A, B, C, D, E, and G viruses.
Hepatitis fast facts:
- Over 90% of cases of hepatitis are caused by hepatitis A, B, or C.
- It’s possible that you might have hepatitis and not realize it at first because there aren’t any symptoms. Or you might not get the right diagnosis because the disease shares some of the same symptoms as the flu.
- Hepatitis A is caused by consuming contaminated food or water.
- Hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease.
- Hepatitis C is commonly spread via direct contact with the blood of a person who has the disease.
- Globally, around 250 million people are affected by hepatitis C and 300 million people are estimated to be hepatitis B carriers.
- Viral hepatitis can be acute or chronic. Acute means that the disease only lasts for a few weeks or months, then the body gets rid of the infection. Chronic hepatitis means that the liver might be inflamed for six months or more. Chronic hepatitis stays in your body. You can infect other people, and your disease can become active again.
Why is our liver so important?
Just as you cannot live without your heart or brain, you cannot survive without your liver. Your liver is a chemical factory that quietly carries out more than 400 important functions each day that are vital to survival.
- It transforms food into usable body chemicals
- Detoxification (filters harmful substances from the blood, such as alcohol, bacteria, and poisons)
- Breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
- The liver stores vitamins (A, D, E, and K), minerals and sugars (glycogen) that your body uses for energy
- The production of biochemicals needed for digestion, such as bile
- It maintains proper levels of glucose in the blood
- It produces 80% of your body’s cholesterol (cholesterol is vital)
To sum it up your liver’s most vital role includes: purification, synthesis, storage, and transformation.
The best way to prevent viral hepatitis is through cleanliness and by avoiding contact with blood. You may not know if someone else is infected. Condoms can help prevent transmission of hepatitis B and C. There are vaccines that can protect you against developing hepatitis A and B, even if you’ve already been exposed to them.
How to prevent hepatitis A
- Wash your hands with soap after going to the toilet
- Only consume food that has just been cooked
- Only drink commercially bottled water, or boiled water if you’re unsure of local sanitation
- Only eat fruits that you can peel if you are somewhere where sanitation is unreliable
- Only eat raw vegetables if you are sure they have been cleaned/disinfected thoroughly
- Get a vaccine for hepatitis A if you travel to places where hepatitis may be endemic (for further information on vaccines please refer to the article on our blog with regards to the benefits)
How to prevent hepatitis B
- Tell your partner if you are a carrier or try to find out whether he/she is a carrier
- Practice safe sex
- Only use clean syringes that have not been used by anyone else
- Do not share toothbrushes, razors, or manicure instruments
- Have a series hepatitis B of shots if you are at risk
- Only allow well sterilized skin perforating equipment (tattoo, acupuncture, etc.).
How to prevent hepatitis C
- Do not share toothbrushes, razors, manicure equipment or needles with an infected person or if you are infected
- Cover open wounds if you are infected
- If your skin is going to be pierced, make sure equipment is well sterilized (tattoo, etc.)
- Go easy on the alcohol
So, remember, start today by practising better hygiene, taking the necessary precautions whilst working with blood or any instrument that has not been properly sterilized and think ahead by getting the necessary vaccines.