July 28 marks World Hepatitis Day 2023 and as such, our experts have joined the important cause of raising awareness of this debilitating condition.
- What hepatitis is
- The difference between the types of hepatitis (A, B, C, D & E)
- Treatments for hepatitis
- What to do if you’re concerned about hepatitis
What hepatitis is
Put simply, hepatitis is a liver disease which, unsurprisingly, damages your liver.
‘Hepatitis’ actually means inflammation or swelling of the liver.
Your liver’s job is to filter blood by breaking down and balancing nutrients, proteins and other chemicals and substances so that they are safe for use by the rest of the body.
As hepatitis inflames and damages someone’s liver, it struggles to clean the blood, and in turn, causes problems with other parts of the body.
FYI: Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or disease, like a puffy, teary red eye when you get debris caught in it for example.
The difference between the types of hepatitis (A, B, C, D & E)
Caused by: Coming into contact with contaminated food or water or close contact with an infected person.
About: A highly contagious viral infection that typically causes acute, short-term illness, with most people recovering without any long-term complications.
Symptoms: These usually start around 2-4 weeks after catching the infection, and include:
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
- Nausea and/or vomiting and loss of appetite
- Muscle/joint pains
Caused by: Contracting the hepatitis B virus (HBV) often through contact with infected blood or other body fluids.
It can be transmitted through sexual contact, sharing of needles, or from an infected mother to her newborn during childbirth.
Tattoos done with unsterilised needles and equipment and even sharing toothbrushes can also cause the disease to spread.
About: Hepatitis B can turn into a chronic (long-term) infection after the initial problems, which are typically around 6 months. The infection can also lead to serious liver problems such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Symptoms: These can start 2-3 months after infection, and include:
- Those similar to hepatitis A
- Pain in the right side of the abdomen (where your liver is)
- Extreme fatigue
Caused by: Contracting the hepatitis C virus (HCV), typically through blood-to-blood contact.
Even microscopic amounts of blood are enough to transmit the virus.
It is commonly associated with injection drug use or unsafe medical procedures, but can also be transmitted through sexual contact or from an infected mother to her child during childbirth.
About: Hepatitis C often becomes a chronic infection, and if left untreated, it can cause liver damage and potentially lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.
There is no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C, but modern treatments cure more than 95% of people with the virus.
Symptoms often appear around 6-7 weeks after an infection, and include:
- Similar to those in hepatitis A
- Mood swings, anxiety and depression
- Problems sleeping and fatigue
- Aches, pains and fever
Caused by: The hepatitis B virus.
About: Hepatitis D is a serious infection that can’t occur without someone first having hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B and D coinfection is considered the most severe form of chronic viral hepatitis due to more rapid progression towards liver-related death.
Hepatitis D infection can be prevented by hepatitis B immunisations, but sadly, treatment is often not successful.
Hepatitis D is a rarer type of hepatitis in Australia.
Symptoms: These are similar to other forms of hepatitis, but can be chronic and more severe.
Caused by: Poor sanitation and consumption of contaminated food and drink, especially uncooked or undercooked pork.
Contaminated or dirty drinking water is a common cause of hepatitis E in some countries.
About: Due to proper sanitation and high standards, hepatitis E is not very common in Australia.
If you travel to central and south-east Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, the Mediterranean region, Mexico and South America or areas with poorer sanitation, take extra care when eating and drinking.
Symptoms: These are similar to other types of acute hepatitis.
Hepatitis types in short
- Hepatitis A — Can last from a few weeks to 6 months, often from contaminated food/drink
- Hepatitis B — A serious infection that can lead to liver damage, often from infected blood contact
- Hepatitis C — Easily treatable, often through blood-to-blood contact
- Hepatitis D — Severe disease, only affects people with hepatitis B
- Hepatitis E — Short-term illness that can be serious in some cases, often from contaminated food/drink
Treatments for hepatitis
Fortunately, if diagnosed and caught early, hepatitis can be effectively treated with many patients going on to make a full recovery.
The exception being hepatitis D which is a severe form of the disease, however, this can only occur if someone first contracts hepatitis B.
Treatment options for hepatitis depend on the type of hepatitis and the stage of the infection.
There is no specific antiviral treatment available, and the infection typically resolves on its own with supportive care and rest.
Vaccination against hepatitis A is an effective preventive measure.
Antiviral medications can slow down the progression of the disease and reduce the risk of liver damage.
These medications can also help prevent transmission to others.
In some cases, long-term treatment may be necessary, particularly if the disease becomes chronic.
Treatments for this type have advanced significantly in recent years and antiviral medication known as direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) is effective in curing hepatitis C.
These medications can eliminate the virus and reduce the risk of complications such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Lifestyle changes play a crucial role in managing all types of hepatitis.
These include avoiding alcohol, maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding liver-damaging substances.
Early diagnosis, proper medical care, and following professional advice are vital for managing hepatitis and minimising its long-term consequences.
What to do if you’re concerned about hepatitis
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms that we’ve listed above or perhaps have recently travelled abroad and are concerned, get in touch with us.
Like many health concerns, early detection and treatment make a huge difference and can significantly reduce the impact and long-term damage.
As does knowing the risks, for example:
- Consuming unsanitary food or drink
- Blood-to-blood contact with other people
- Travelling to countries and areas with poor sanitation
- Scrapes or cuts from unclean objects
Routine check-ups are one of the most effective ways to keep on top of your health and have the chance to ask a professional about any concerns you may have.
If it’s been a while since your last check-up, get in touch with our team today and know how your health stacks up.