Confused about hepatitis? That is because there are at least six kinds of viral hepatitis. The word hepatitis means an inflammation of the liver, caused by many things, including drug or alcohol abuse. Today, hepatitis usually refers to the disease caused by one of the six hepatitis viruses, types A, B, C, D, E and G.
Hepatitis B and C are the main causes of chronic hepatitis, meaning inflammation that lasts for more than six months, and continues damaging the liver. Unfortunately, the present treatments for B, C and D leave much to be desired.
Some people with chronic hepatitis are carriers who can spread the disease even if they are not sick. Sometimes people do not know they have hepatitis, because the symptoms can be mild or non-existent. The symptoms may include fatigue, fever, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite.
This is typically spread through food and water that has been contaminated by feces. It usually occurs in the United States as a result of improper food handling, direct contact or sometimes from eating raw shellfish from contaminated water.
Nearly everyone who gets hepatitis A recovers fully with no lasting effects. Treatment is not necessary, but infected people should take care not to spread the virus. A vaccine is available.
Hepatitis B and D
The hepatitis B virus lives in semen, blood and saliva, so it can be spread through transfusions (but blood is now screened for it), needle sticks, sexual relations, close contact, and sharing things like razors and toothbrushes. It can also be spread by tattooing and body piercing, when sterile procedures are not used.
The hepatitis D virus reproduces only when it is attached to hepatitis B, so it only infects people with hepatitis B.
The vaccine for hepatitis B has become routine for children, but many adults at risk are not immunized. As with hepatitis A, there is an immune globulin shot for people who know they have been recently exposed to the virus.
This virus infects nearly 4 million Americans, killing some 10,000 each year. It is probably the most serious and the most worrisome of the hepatitis viruses.
Like hepatitis A, type E is spread through fecal contamination and rarely becomes chronic. It can be dangerous in pregnant women.
Little is known about the newest of the hepatitis viruses. It sometimes exists as a co-infection with other hepatitis viruses. While it often becomes chronic, it does not appear to cause liver disease or long-term problems. More research is needed.