The World Health Organization 2017 Global hepatitis report estimates that there were 257 million persons living with chronic HBV infection globally, making it the most common chronic viral infection worldwide.

World Hepatitis Day marks the importance of awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis and the diseases that it causes. This year’s theme “Hepatitis Can’t Wait” emphasizes the need to strengthen prevention and the urgency for healthcare provision.

*Dr. Hamilton Lesiba from Mpumalanga has been practicing for three years and is currently training to be a board-certified Neuro and Spinal Surgeon.

With his passion for sharing information on medical issues that are common amongst young people on social media, Lesiba talked us through the different types of the hepatitis virus.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A virus is the most common cause of clinically evident acute viral hepatitis in both children and adults in the other populations in South Africa, and HBV accounts for a minority of patients only.

The virus is one of several types of hepatitis viruses that cause inflammation and affect your liver’s ability to function.

“You’re most likely to get hepatitis A from contaminated food or water or from close contact with a person or object that’s infected. Mild cases of hepatitis A don’t require treatment. Most people who are infected recover completely with no permanent liver damage.” Said Lesiba

He noted that practicing good hygiene, including washing hands frequently, is one of the best ways to protect against hepatitis A.

“Vaccines are available for people most at risk. Hepatitis A signs and symptoms typically don’t appear until you’ve had the virus for a few weeks. Being in close contact with a person who’s infected — even if that person has no signs or symptoms and having unprotected sex with someone who has the virus are some of the ways that it is transmittable.”

Hepatitis B

HBV is one of five types of viral hepatitis. The others are hepatitis C, D, and E. Each is a different type of virus, and types B and C are most likely to become chronic.

Chronic hepatitis B develops slowly and the symptoms may not be noticeable unless complications develop. Similarly to other types, it is highly contagious and spreads through contact with infected blood and certain other bodily fluids.

“Although the virus can be found in saliva, it’s not spread through sharing utensils or kissing. It also doesn’t spread through sneezing, coughing, or breastfeeding. Symptoms of hepatitis B may not appear for 3 months after exposure and can last for 2–12 weeks. However, you are still contagious, even without symptoms. The virus can live outside the body for up to seven days.”

Lesiba listed the possible methods of transmission including direct contact with infected blood transfer from mother to baby during birth, being pricked with a contaminated needle, intimate contact with a person with HBV oral, vaginal, and anal sex.

“Most people will overcome an acute infection on their own. However, rest and hydration will help you recover. Antiviral medications are also used to treat chronic hepatitis B. These help you fight the virus. They may also reduce the risk of future liver complications. You may need a liver transplant if hepatitis B has severely damaged your liver.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is spread by exposure to contaminated blood or needles. It can lead to long-term health problems, including liver damage and liver cancer.

Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Lesiba said that efforts to create one are ongoing.

“Not everyone with hepatitis C will need treatment. For some people, their immune systems may be able to fight the infection well enough to clear the virus from their bodies. For people whose immune systems don’t clear the infection, medications are usually effective. Past hepatitis C treatment regimens required weekly injections with many negative side effects. Newer antiviral medications are often successful at treating the virus. They come in pill form and cause few side effects.”

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D also known as the hepatitis delta virus can’t be contracted on its own. It can only infect people who are already infected with hepatitis B.

Hepatitis D can be acute or chronic. Acute hepatitis D occurs suddenly and typically causes more severe symptoms. It may go away on its own. If the infection lasts for six months or longer, the condition is known as chronic hepatitis D.

“Many people with the condition eventually develop cirrhosis, or severe scarring of the liver. There’s currently no cure or vaccine for hepatitis D, but it can be prevented in people who aren’t already infected with hepatitis B. Treatment may also help prevent liver failure when the condition is detected early.”

Hepatitis E

Lesiba said that hepatitis E is a short-term and self-resolving version of hepatitis but in some cases may develop into acute liver failure.

“More rarely, hepatitis E can be transmitted through indirect faecal contamination of food or water, eating products from infected animals. It can also be transmitted through blood transfusions. An infected pregnant woman can also transfer the virus to her foetus. Most cases of infection clear up on their own after a few weeks.”

Alcoholic hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver caused by drinking too much alcohol.

“Alcoholic hepatitis can occur in people who drink heavily for many years. Periods of heavy alcohol use before developing alcoholic hepatitis can range from three months to 36 years. Among people who are chronic drinkers, about 10-35% of them will develop alcoholic hepatitis in SA.”

Lesiba said that the amount of alcohol it takes to put you at risk is currently unknown.

“But most people with the condition have a history of drinking more than 100 grams, which is equivalent to seven glasses of wine, seven beers or seven shots of spirits – daily for at least ten to 20 years. Even moderate drinkers occasionally develop alcoholic hepatitis, as do inconsistent binge drinkers.”

Alcoholic hepatitis is reversible and liver function improves over a period of time with abstinence from alcohol and supportive care. – Health-e News