Hepatitis is not a disease that affects only those involved in risky behaviour. Any individual can be at risk if he/she, for example:
- Works in a hospital
- Unwittingly consumes contaminated food while travelling
To understand your risk for hepatitis, you have first to understand what the disease is and how it is spread. The word ‘hepatitis’ means inflammation of the liver. But hepatitis can be a lot more serious compared to this simple definition.
What Is Hepatitis?
If you come to know that you have got hepatitis, you will have to find out which type you are suffering from. There are five types of hepatitis – hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatitis D, hepatitis E. While all kinds of hepatitis infect the liver and leads to liver inflammation, each of them have different causes
What Causes Different Types of Hepatitis?
The severity of your disease is known by the type of virus causing hepatitis and its duration.
You generally get afflicted to if you consume (eat or drink) something that had the virus in it. Hepatitis A is the least risky type as it almost always gets better on its own. This virus does not generally cause long-term inflammation of your liver. A small percentage of people who get this virus get sick enough to seek medical relief from a hospital. In addition, there is a vaccine that can prevent it.
This type of virus spreads in many ways. An individual may get infected with Hepatitis B from sex with someone who is already sick or by sharing a injection needle while using street drugs. Hepatitis B can also transmit from a mother to a newborn child at birth or soon after that. Most of the adult individuals with this virus get better. However, a small percentage cannot get over it and may become carriers, which means they can transmit it to others even while their own symptoms disappear.
You may get infected by this type of virus when you have contact with contaminated blood or injectable needles for illegal drugs or to draw tattoos. Sometimes you do not show any signs or symptoms or show just mild symptoms. However, in some cases, hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis – highly risky scarring of the liver.
This happens only if you are already infected with hepatitis B. It tends to worsen this disease making it more severe. This virus spreads through sex and from mother to child.
This is found mainly spreads in Mexico, Africa, Asia and India. It generally infects in individuals who return from a country where there is an outbreak of the disease. Similar to Hepatitis A, a person usually gets it by consuming (eating or drinking) something that has been contaminated with this virus.
The causes of hepatitis
Viral infections cause most of the hepatitis cases.
Overuse of certain medications or alcohol also causes hepatitis. An autoimmune condition where the natural defence system of the body becomes overactive and starts attacking the liver can be a cause of hepatitis as well.
Certain behaviors increase your risk of getting hepatitis:
- HIV and Hepatitis Risks: While HIV makes it more difficult to treat hepatitis, it is wrong to think of HIV as a risk factor. Both hepatitis and HIV are viruses that are spread in similar methods. While there are similar patterns, HIV does not lead to or is not a cause of hepatitis. If an individual contracted HIV through unsafe sex, sharing needles, or receiving blood transfusions from unsafe blood supplies, he or she is at risk for hepatitis also . However, it is the exposure to fluids of the body that puts a person at risk, not the HIV status.
- Direct Anal-oral Contact: While hepatitis A is transmitted primarily through contaminated water and food, sexual oral-anal contact too can spread the hepatitis virus.
- IV Drug Use: Sharing needles may lead to exposure to infected blood.
- Tattoos, Body Piercing and Other Needle Exposure: Tattoos can spread hepatitis the same way sharing needles do. If a person gets a tattoo, piercing, or even acupuncture from a place where fresh needles are not used for every client, then the individual getting it is at risk for hepatitis.
Medications and Alcohol Abuse
Certain over-the-counter medications (like Acetaminophen and others), may damage your liver severely if you take too much of it and too frequently. Medicines such as acetaminophen are said to be the leading cause of drug-induced liver injury. Other medications, like methotrexate, that are administered to treat psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, can also lead to hepatitis.
Chronic alcohol drinking may also lead to alcoholic hepatitis, which, in many cases, is responsible for 40 percent of patient deaths within six months of its onset. Individuals who consume more than 100 grams of any kind of alcohol every day for several decades, are at greater risk.
If you combine alcohol and medicines known to be toxic to the liver, you are at a risk for a severe, life-threatening form of hepatitis.
Living and Working Conditions
An individual is at risk for contracting hepatitis if he or she:
- Works with Children: Child care workers are at a greater risk for hepatitis A. Generally, day care workers tend to forget to wash their hands after changing diapers and children can unintentionally contaminate toys, snacks and other surfaces if they forget to wash their hands after using the toilet.
- Lives with a person with hepatitis: Hepatitis can be contracted through sharing personal items such as razors, toothbrushes, or even nail clippers that may get contaminated with small amounts of blood.
- Is a healthcare worker: Healthcare professionals who extract blood from patients run a higher risk of needle sticks. The virus can spread in this manner if the needle was used earlier on a patient with hepatitis.
Food and Water Risks
Hepatitis A is contracted through indirect oral-faecal contact, generally by consuming faeces-contaminated water, or foods living in or washed in contaminated water. Other drinks and food to watch out for include fresh fruits and vegetables washed in contaminated water and ice cubes that could have been made with contaminated water.
National or international travel may bring you into contact with contaminated, unsafe water supplies. If you are travelling to places where you are not sure about the cleanliness , use branded factory-sealed bottled water for consumption and also to brush your teeth. You can also get vaccinated before you travel.
Other Hepatitis Risk Factors
Other ways to contract hepatitis include blood transfusions and chemotherapy or immune system suppression therapy. Medicines used to treat cancer or to prevent rejection of an organ transplant are designed to weaken the immune system and may increase the risk of developing hepatitis.
Finally, the most frequent cause of hepatitis B worldwide is, being born with it. A common cause of hepatitis B around the world is the transmission from mother to child during childbirth.