Hepatitis is a general term that refers to the inflammation of the liver. This can be caused by various causes mainly viruses or other non infectious causes. The non-infectious causes of hepatitis include alcohol, certain medication, chemicals, genetic problem, metabolic disorder, or an immune related injury. The main cause of hepatitis is viruses hence the need to know the main viruses that cause hepatitis and how to prevent infection.
- Hepatitis A virus (HAV):
Hepatitis A is spread from an infected person’s feces directly or indirectly contaminating food, drinking water, cooking utensils or someone else’s fingers. The incubation period is two to six weeks after infection. Hepatitis A is considered an acute condition.
- Hepatitis B virus(HBV);
Hepatitis B is spread through sexual contact, blood transfusion or exposure to an infected person’s blood via cuts, open sores, needle sharing, razor sharing or ear piercing tools. In addition, hepatitis B can be spread from mother to child at birth. The incubation period is four to 25 weeks. Hepatitis B is the most serious form of hepatitis.
Ninety percent of all hepatitis B cases are considered acute, while the other 10 percent are considered chronic and may progress to chronic hepatitis leading to cirrhosis (a disease of the liver caused by chronic damage to its cells), liver failure or liver cancer.
- Hepatitis C virus(HCV);
Hepatitis C is transmitted primarily by direct blood contact – via blood transfusion or and contaminated needles. The incubation period is five to 10 weeks. Twenty-five percent of the hepatitis C cases are considered acute, while the other 75 percent are considered chronic, which may result in cirrhosis.
- Hepatitis D virus(HDV);
Hepatitis D is found mainly in intravenous drug users who are carriers of the hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis D can cause both acute and chronic disease.
- Hepatitis E virus(HEV);
Hepatitis E resembles hepatitis A, and is transmitted in the same manner.
Many people with Hepatitis experience either mild symptoms or none at all. This group of individuals will continue with their daily activities without ever realizing they have a hepatitis infection. For those who present with symptoms of hepatitis, the symptoms are similar, irrespective of cause. Early in the disease, the symptoms resemble those of flu (flu-like symptoms) such as fever, muscle or joint pains, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach pain. As the disease progresses other symptoms may occur such as jaundice (commonly seen as yellowness of the eyes), dark urine, itching, light colored stool, drowsiness and dizziness.
Hepatitis can heal on its own, even without treatment, with no significant consequence. However, it can progress to scarring of the liver (Liver cirrhosis) which can lead to chronic liver disease. Acute hepatitis lasts under six months, while chronic hepatitis lasts longer.
Depending on the type of viral hepatitis, there are different measures you can take to protect yourself. If hepatitis A or E, proper hygienic practices are vital. These include proper hand washing before handling food and after using the toilet, taking boiled or treated water,only eat raw vegetables if you are sure they have been cleaned thoroughly and only eat fruits that you can peel if you are somewhere where sanitation is unreliable. If Hepatitis B, C or D, avoid direct contact with any blood or body fluids. This includes sharing of personal items that may be contaminated with blood or body fluids.
Vaccination for the people at risk is done for Hepatitis A and B. Hepatitis A is a two-dose vaccine and Hepatitis B is a three dose vaccine. Both vaccines are administered in the muscle, usually the upper arm and are available in the Kenyan market.