In India, viral hepatitis (hepatitis caused by a virus) is now considered a serious public health problem as it puts a huge social, economic and disease burden on the affected person, family, and the health care system.
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis generally refers to inflammation of the liver. Commonly caused by a viral infection (but there are other possible causes too), hepatitis is a well-known infectious disease that is usually caused by the hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis can progress to liver cirrhosis (scarring), fibrosis, or liver cancer.
Other possible causes include hepatitis that occurs as a secondary result of medicines, toxins, drugs and alcohol, and autoimmune hepatitis. Autoimmune hepatitis is a disease that happens when the human body makes antibodies against its own liver tissue.
As per the newest estimates in India, about 40 million individuals are chronically infected with hepatitis B and 6 to 12 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis C.
What are the Five Types of Viral Hepatitis?
Viral infections of liver classified as hepatitis are categorized as hepatitis A, B, C, D and E as per the virus responsible for each type of virally transmitted hepatitis. While hepatitis A is a short-term disease and is always acute, hepatitis B, C, and D can possibly become ongoing and chronic. Hepatitis E is generally severe and can be dangerous particularly in pregnant women.
- Hepatitis A: Caused by an infection with the hepatitis A virus (HAV), this type of hepatitis is transmitted most commonly by consuming water or food contaminated by feces from a hepatitis A infected person.
- Hepatitis B: Caused by hepatitis B virus (HBV), Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with infectious body fluids like semen, vaginal secretions or blood having HBV. Sharing razors with an infected individual, injection drug use or sex with an infected partner increases the risk of getting hepatitis B.
- Hepatitis C: Caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV), Hepatitis C, a common blood-borne infection, is contracted through direct contact with fluids of an infected person, typically through sexual contact and injection drug use.
- Hepatitis D: Caused by hepatitis D virus (HDV), Hepatitis D (or delta hepatitis) is a serious liver disease transmitted through direct contact with infected blood. This is a rare form of hepatitis that occurs only in conjunction with hepatitis B infection. HDV cannot multiply without the presence of hepatitis B.
- Hepatitis E: Caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV), Hepatitis E, a waterborne disease, is found mainly in areas with poor sanitation. It typically results from fecal matter that contaminates the water supply.
What are the Common Myths about Hepatitis?
- Myth: All Hepatitis infections are fatal diseases.
Fact: No, the infection does not kill everyone. In fact, in India, there are about 20 to 40 million infected persons who are living normal lives, the majority of whom will live till old age.
- Myth: Hepatitis is a hereditary/genetic disease – passed on from parent to children.
Fact: No. Hepatitis is not inherited and is not a genetic disease as well. Hepatitis B is generally contracted from mother to child during birth. However, such transmission from the mother can be prevented if the status of her HBV is known and immunoglobulin is given within 12 hours of birth.
- Myth: Hepatitis is an untreatable disease.
Fact: Some cases and types of hepatitis can heal without any intervention, but sometimes hepatitis can progress to liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). Patients have to take proper rest and abstain from drugs and alcohol during recovery. Doctors may prescribe interferon (antiviral agent), or other antiviral suppressive therapies. For hepatitis C infection, a patient may be prescribed antiviral agents.
Many antivirals, as well as combination therapies, are available now to treat hepatitis. Hepatitis treatments prevent the virus from reproducing and if the treatment regimen is followed correctly, the cure rate is very high.
- Myth: Bland food and boiled vegetables are the right kind of foods for Hepatitis infected person
Fact: Nutrition is most vital for improving liver function. Limiting oneself to only boiled and bland food may cause protein-calorie malnutrition during the prolonged illness.
- Myth: Hepatitis B spreads by touching, coughing, and sharing utensils.
Fact: No! Hepatitis B is spread only when body fluids from an infected individual enters another through sex, pricking or transfusions.
- Myth: Hepatitis C goes away without treatment
Fact: Approximately 80 percent of individuals exposed to hepatitis C may develop a chronic infection. While a small percentage may get rid of the infection without treatment, for everyone else, hepatitis C turns into a long-term or chronic disease. And, over time, hepatitis C, if not treated, may lead to health problems, such as cirrhosis, liver failure, and cancer.
- Myth: Hepatitis and jaundice are synonymous.
Fact: No, jaundice is just a symptom of hepatitis and not a cause of it.
- Myth 3: There is no treatment for this disease and herbal medicines and Ayurveda are the only effective treatments
Fact: This is the biggest myth! Most infected individuals seek treatment from quacks and remedial doctors and aggravate the disease. Fact is, hepatitis can be treated if people approach the right physicians and get themselves treated at the earliest.
Hepatitis can be prevented in many ways – from washing hands to getting a vaccine. But, it all depends on what type an individual has. There are three major kinds of this liver disease — hepatitis A, B, and C – and different types of hepatitis have different chances of recovery.
While persons with hepatitis A will recover normally in 2 months with immunity for the rest of their life, most adults infected with hepatitis B may recover within 90 days achieving lifelong immunity. However, 90 percent of infants, 20 percent older children and 5 percent of adults infected with hepatitis B may develop severe health problems and chronic infection like cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Hepatitis C is fatal in between 1 and 5 percent and, can become a lifelong infection in 70 – 85 percent of individuals. While this infection can now be cured, 15 – 25 percent of individuals with hepatitis C virus clear the infection without treatment.
What’s the long-term outlook for someone with hepatitis D?
Hepatitis D isn’t curable. Early diagnosis is essential in preventing liver damage. When the condition goes untreated, complications are more likely to occur. These include:
- Liver disease
- Liver cancer
People with chronic hepatitis D are more prone to develop complications compared to those with the acute version of the infection.