What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis refers to an inflammation of the liver cells which eventually leads to the damage of the liver. It is a condition where the liver may suffer such injuries such as swelling or enlargement, burning and scaring that could hinder the functioning of the liver or even lead to a higher risk of liver cancer and liver failure- a condition where the vital functions of the liver shut down. When liver failure occurs, a liver transplant is necessary to sustain life. Chronic hepatitis B may lead to kidney disease or inflammation of blood vessels that supply the organ. Although Hepatitis is commonly caused by a viral infection, there are other possible causes of hepatitis which include autoimmune hepatitis (a condition arising from an abnormal immune response to a normal body part) and hepatitis that occurs as a result of medications, use of drugs, toxins, and alcohol.

Who is at Risk?

  • Health care providers and emergency responders due to the nature of their work and potential for exposure.
  • Individuals diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
  • Illicit drug users
  • Sex contacts or close household members of an infected person (remember, you may not know who is or is not infected)
  • Pregnant women – because infants are so vulnerable to HBV (90% of infected infants will remain chronically infected, and HBV is very effectively transmitted from infected mother to baby.)
  • Recipients of a blood transfusion before 1992. Prior to 1992, there was no screening for hepatitis C in blood transfusion.
  • Recipients of medical or dental services where strict infection control practices are not followed – sadly another issue in parts of the world.
  • Kidney dialysis patients and those in early renal failure
  • Individuals with tattoos and body piercings performed in a parlour that does not strictly adhere to infection control practices – it may be up to you to ensure proper infection control practices are followed.
  • People living with diabetes are at risk if diabetes-care equipment such as syringes or insulin pens are inadvertently shared.

Types of Hepatitis

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 5 main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. These 5 types are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread. Types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis (scarring) and cancer.

Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is present in the faeces of infected persons and is most often transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food. Certain sex practices can also spread HAV. Infections are in many cases mild, with most people making a full recovery and remaining immune from further HAV infections. However, HAV infections can also be severe and life threatening. Most people in areas of the world with poor sanitation have been infected with this virus. Safe and effective vaccines are available to prevent HAV.

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is transmitted through exposure to infective blood, semen, and other body fluids. HBV can be transmitted from infected mothers to infants at the time of birth or from family member to infant in early childhood. Transmission may also occur through transfusions of HBV-contaminated blood and blood products, contaminated injections during medical procedures, and through injection drug use. HBV also poses a risk to healthcare workers who sustain accidental needle stick injuries while caring for infected-HBV patients. Safe and effective vaccines are available to prevent HBV.

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is mostly transmitted through exposure to infective blood. This may happen through transfusions of HCV-contaminated blood and blood products, contaminated injections during medical procedures, and through injection drug use. Sexual transmission is also possible but is much less common. There is no vaccine for HCV.

Hepatitis D virus (HDV) infections occur only in those who are infected with HBV. The dual infection of HDV and HBV can result in a more serious disease and worse outcome. Hepatitis B vaccines provide protection from HDV infection.

Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is mostly transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food. HEV is a common cause of hepatitis outbreaks in developing parts of the world and is increasingly recognized as an important cause of disease in developed countries. Safe and effective vaccines to prevent HEV infection have been developed but are not widely available.

What are the signs and symptoms of Hepatitis?

When signs and symptoms are present, they may include, jaundice, along with fatigue, nausea, fever and muscle aches, abdominal pain, dark urine, loss of appetite and weight loss. Acute symptoms appear one to three months after exposure to the virus and last two weeks to three months.

How do I prevent being infected or transmitting Hepatitis?

Avoid poor hygiene: Practicing good hygiene is one key way to avoid contracting hepatitis A and E. proper washing of hands with clean running water after using a toilet, washing or showering immediately after being on a public transport, washing our clothes, avoid sharing towels, toothbrushes and other person items are all effective ways of preventing ourselves and loved ones from getting infected with Hepatitis.

Avoid contaminated food and water: Avoid eating out where you are not sure of their hygiene level or source of water used in cooking, proper washing of fruits and vegetables before consuming them are effective ways of avoiding Hepatitis.

Avoid alcohol induced hepatitis. Just 113 grammes a day of hard liquor for men (55 grammes for women) can begin to scar the liver. On a routine basis, men should not consume more than three drinks per day, and women should not consume more than two drinks per day to prevent the development of alcoholic liver disease. Alcohol fatty liver which causes liver inflammation, eventual scarring and liver cancer, is a process that begins on as little as four drinks a day for men and more than two for women.

Avoid Multiple sexual Partners. Avoid unprotected sex and multiple sex partners. The virus can pass from one person to another if the blood, saliva, semen or vaginal secretions of an infected person is passed from one person to another. It is always advisable to do a health screening with ones’ partner

Avoid Sharing of needles. HBV easily spreads through needles and syringes contaminated with infected blood. Sharing IV drug paraphernalia puts you at high risk of hepatitis B.

Accidental needle sticks. Hepatitis B is a concern for health care workers and anyone else who comes in contact with human blood.

Mother to child. Pregnant women infected with HBV can pass the virus to their babies during childbirth. However, the new-born can be vaccinated to avoid getting infected in almost all cases. Talk to a doctor about being tested for hepatitis B if you are pregnant or want to become pregnant.

Tips to Maintaining a Healthy Liver

The human liver is the second largest organ in the human body and is a special organ that performs some hundreds of critical jobs. The liver is the body’s primary filtration system, converting toxins into waste products, cleansing blood, and metabolising nutrients and medications to provide the body with some of its most important proteins. It is a fundamental part of the body’s overall regulation hence it is very important to keep our liver healthy by limiting overindulgence, physically and physiologically. Here are a few tips to maintaining a healthy liver;

  1. Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re obese or even somewhat overweight, you’re in danger of having a fatty liver that can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), one of the fastest growing forms of liver disease. Weight loss can play an important part in helping to reduce liver fat.
  2. Eat a balanced diet. Avoid high calorie-meals, saturated fat, refined carbohydrates (such as white bread, white rice and regular pasta) and sugars. Don’t eat raw or undercooked shellfish. For a well-adjusted diet, eat fiber, which you can obtain from fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, rice and cereals. Also eat meat (but limit the amount of red meat), dairy (low-fat milk and small amounts of cheese) andfats (the “good” fats that are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and fish). Hydration is essential, so drink a lot of water.
  3. Exercise regularly. When you exercise consistently, it helps to burn triglycerides for fuel and can also reduce liver fat.
  4. Avoid toxins. Toxins can injure liver cells. Limit direct contact with toxins from cleaning and aerosol products, insecticides, chemicals, and additives. When you do use aerosols, make sure the room is ventilated, and wear a mask. Don’t smoke.
  5. Use alcohol responsibly. Alcoholic beverages can create many health problems. They can damage or destroy liver cells and scar the liver. Talk to a doctor about what amount of alcohol is right for you. You may be advised to drink alcohol only in moderation or to quit completely.
  6. Get vaccinated. There are vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine against the hepatitis C virus.

The liver’s to-do list is second only to that of the brain and numbers well over 300 functions, including systematically reworking the food we eat into usable building blocks for our cells; neutralizing the many potentially harmful substances that we incidentally or deliberately ingest; generating a vast pharmacopoeia of hormones, enzymes, clotting factors and immune molecules; controlling blood chemistry. Therefore, the liver is the king of all our internal organs, as such we treat our liver like a king by taking good care of it by abstaining from everything that could cause harm on the liver.

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