March 20, 2012
Hepatitis the name of a medical condition caused by a virus. All forms of hepatitis are characterised by swelling of the liver. There are different disease progressions and levels of severity, depending on the specific virus responsible. There are five main kinds of hepatitis, designated hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E.
Hepatitis A is spread via stool from an infected person. You can catch it by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the hepatitis A virus (HAV). HAV can also be spread through unsafe sex practices. Like all forms of hepatitis, infection with HAV can lead to inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis A is not a chronic disease — the body’s immune response can destroy the virus all together. Except in very rare cases, all hepatitis A patients make a complete recovery.
Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). It is spread through contact with an infected person’s body fluids, such as blood or semen. HBV is a sexually transmitted disease (STD), which can be passed on through unsafe sex. You can also contract hepatitis B through a bite from an infected person, being pieced or tattooed with unsterilised equipment or by getting infected fluids in a cut or an abrasion. Intravenous drug users may contract the disease by sharing needles. Blood products are now screened for the virus but it is technically possible to contract hepatitis B from an infected blood transfusion. A mother who is infected may pass HBV to her baby during birth or through breast milk. Some people are able to overcome the infection completely; others fall victim to a chronic or lifelong infection. Hepatitis B can damage the liver and may lead to cancer. It is much more serious than hepatitis A.
Hepatitis C is spread in the same way to hepatitis B, through contact with infected body fluids. It also causes swelling of the liver and can lead to long-term damage. Most patients infected with hepatitis C will carry the infection for the rest of their lives. It is a dangerous virus, capable of causing cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver and liver cancer.
Hepatitis D can only be contracted alongside hepatitis B or if you are already infected with the hepatitis B virus. The HBV infection doesn’t have to be active; the presence of the virus is all that’s required. It is spread in a similar way to hepatitis B. Hepatitis D has the highest mortality rate of all forms of hepatitis, with 20% (one fifth) of all cases resulting in death.
Hepatitis E is spread in a similar way to hepatitis B, through means such as contaminated food or water. Hepatitis E is rare in regions of the world with adequate sanitation.