Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. It can affect any individual of any age including children.
Viral hepatitis is most commonly caused by hepatitis A virus (HAV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C virus (HCV). But hepatitis D and E viruses also exist.
Other common causes of hepatitis include- infections, toxic substances (e.g. alcohol, certain drugs), autoimmune diseases and metabolic disorders.
On World Hepatitis Day, 28 July, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is highlighting the urgent need for countries to enhance action to prevent viral hepatitis infection and to ensure that people who have been infected are diagnosed and offered treatment.
This year, the Organization is focusing particularly on hepatitis B and C, which together causes approximately 80% of all liver cancer deaths and kills close to 1.4 million people every year.
The theme for this year’s World Hepatitis Day is “Prevent hepatitis. Act now”.
In India, it is estimated that prevalence of hepatitis C infection is more than 6 times the prevalence of HIV infection. The World Health Organisation has called the HCV a “viral time bomb”, which signifies that the policy makers must pay the required attention towards this health issue.
WHO is alerting people to the risk of contracting hepatitis from infected blood, infected injections, and sharing drug-injection equipment.
Risk factors, symptoms and causes
Hepatitis A: This form of hepatitis is commonly found in children and is usually spread by fecal-oral contact or fecal-infected food and water.
A baby could get hepatitis A by consuming food/water contaminated with HAV-infected stool.
Parents might not even know that their children have caught the disease as hepatitis A can be a mild infection. However, in serious cases of infection, symptoms include fever, vomiting, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, dark-colored urine, and jaundice.
Hepatitis A usually causes mild illness, but it can also cause prolonged illness for upto six months
Hepatitis B: The hepatitis B virus is spread by contact with blood and other body fluids of an infected person. Infants may contract hepatitis B if they are born to a mother who has the virus.
In adults, it can be transmitted through unprotected sex with an HBV-infected person and sharing of contaminated needles or syringes for injecting drugs.
Symptoms may range from a mild illness to more serious chronic liver disease that can result in liver failure. Common symptoms may include fever, vomiting, loss of appetite, jaundice, etc.
Women who had hepatitis while giving birth, should make sure that their newborns get both the hepatitis B vaccine and an injection of immune globulin, which contains antibodies against the virus. In addition to that, these babies should be tested at about 9 to 15 months old to make sure that the vaccination was effective.
Hepatitis C: It is more common in adults than in children. Hepatitis C is transmitted through direct contact with human blood and other body fluids. A baby can also get hepatitis C from his/her infected mother.
In adults, it can also be acquired through sexual contact with an infected person or through intravenous drug use.
Symptoms are usually mild and children often show no symptoms at all and therefore, parents get to know about their kid’s disease at a later stage.
Hepatitis C leads to chronic liver disease in a majority of people infected with the virus. HCV is also considered to be the leading cause for liver transplantation in adults. Chronic hepatitis C virus infection is also linked with cancer.
Tests and diagnosis
All of the above conditions can be diagnosed through blood tests. A healthcare provider may also ask for liver function tests in order to determine the extent of the damage. A liver biopsy may be asked to do to further check for organ damage. Other tests and diagnostic procedures to determine the extent of the disease include CT scans and MRI.
Like any other diseases, practising a good hygiene can help prevent the risk of getting as well as spreading hepatitis. Other preventive measures include:
Vaccinations – vaccinations are available for HAV and HBV, unfortunately, there’s no vaccine for HCV.
WHO recommends vaccinating all children against hepatitis B infection. The vaccine should be given as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours. The birth dose should be followed by 2 or 3 doses to complete the vaccine series. A safe and effective vaccine can protect from hepatitis B infection for life.
WHO also recommends vaccinating adults who are at increased risk of acquiring hepatitis B.
Blood transfusion – to reduce the risk of infection, blood transfusion is routinely screened for hepatitis B and C.