How much do we know about hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a term used to describe inflammation (swelling) of the liver. It can occur as a result of a viral infection or because the liver is exposed to harmful substances such as alcohol. Some types of hepatitis will pass without causing permanent damage to the liver.

Other types can persist for many years and cause scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and, in the most serious cases, loss of liver function (liver failure), which can be fatal. These types of long-lasting hepatitis are known as chronic hepatitis.
Initial symptoms of hepatitis caused by infection are similar to the flu and include: muscle and joint pain, a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above, feeling sick, being sick, headache, occasionally yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice).

Several viruses are known to cause hepatitis. Common forms of viral hepatitis include Hepatitis A, B, and C:

(1) Hepatitis A : Hepatitis A is a virus that causes liver disease. It most commonly comes from contaminated food or water. This form of hepatitis never leads to a chronic infection and usually has no complications. The liver usually heals from hepatitis A within two months. Hepatitis A can be prevented by vaccination.

(2) Hepatitis B : This form of hepatitis causes liver damage. Most people recover from the virus within six months, but sometimes the virus will cause a lifelong, chronic infection, possibly resulting in serious liver damage. Once infected, a person can spread the virus even if he or she does not feel sick. Hepatitis B can be prevented by vaccination.

(3) Hepatitis C : Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus. This can be found in the blood and, to a much lesser extent, the saliva and semen or vaginal fluid of an infected person. It is particularly concentrated in the blood, so it is usually transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. Hepatitis C often causes no noticeable symptoms or symptoms that are mistaken for the flu, so many people are unaware they are infected. Around one in four people will fight off the infection and will be free of the virus. There is currently no vaccination for hepatitis C.

Viral hepatitis is often preventable. However, it is still considered a serious health risk because it can: destroy liver tissue, spread from person to person, weaken the bodys immune system, cause the liver to fail, cause liver cancer (hepatitis B and C) or even death....