What is Hepatitis?
There are five forms of Hepatitis: A, B and C, D and E. These are viruses which can infect and damage the liver. Hepatitis B and C are the biggest problems in the UK.
How do you get Hepatitis?
Hepatitis A is less common in Western countries but mostly common in places where there is poor sanitation and sewage disposal and water supplies are of a poor standard.
It can be spread through the ‘faecal-oral’ route when you put something in your mouth that has been contaminated by the faeces (stools) of someone with hepatitis A.
Eating uncooked food, fruit and vegetables washed in contaminated water or foods that have been contaminated with raw sewage such as shellfish
Hepatitis B can be spread by conducting unprotected sex (including oral and anal); sharing needles to inject drugs; through blood and bodily fluids (semen and vaginal)
By sharing equipment to inject drugs. You can also become infected if you come into contact with the blood, or less commonly, body fluids of an infected person.
Symptoms may not appear for 2-6 weeks and can include a flu-like illness, joint pain, fever, feeling/being sick, pale stools, itchy skin, yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice), abdominal pain. Symptoms may clear within a 2-month period but can last up to 6 months.
There may be no symptoms for 1-6 months. Symptoms may include feeling/being sick, lack of appetite, yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice),flu-like illness, aches and pains, feeling tired.
No noticeable symptoms appear until the liver has been significantly damaged. Symptoms may then include tiredness, depression, flu-like symptoms.
Testing for Hepatitis
Hepatitis tests can be carried out at a Genitourinary Clinic (GUM), Sexual Health Clinic.
There is no specific cure for Hepatitis A. If you are infected you should get plenty of rest.
There is no specific treatment for an acute phase of Hepatitis B other than painkillers to relieve symptoms. A majority of people do not require treatment, the symptoms resolve and the person can clear themselves of the infection usually within 6 months. A small minority of people can develop serious symptoms (severe jaundice and swelling of the stomach).
Hepatitis C can be treated with antiviral medicines designed to stop the virus from multiplying inside the body and prevent liver damage.
What happens is Hepatitis is not treated?
A majority of people with recover without treatment within about 2 months. Complications are rare.
A large majority of people infected will be able to fight off the virus and recover within a couple of months. A small minority will develop Cirrhosis of the liver and some may develop liver cancer.
The virus will stay in the body for many years and left untreated will go on to develop scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). Around one in five people with cirrhosis will develop liver failure, and 1 in 20 will develop liver cancer, both of which can be fatal.
Prevention against Hepatitis
Consider a vaccination if:
- You are visiting a country where Hepatitis A is common
- Are an injecting drug user
- Sewage worker
- You have been in close contact with an infected person
- You have had unprotected sex and you think you may be at risk
Avoid having ice cubes in drinks, drinking or cleaning your teeth in tap water, not eating shellfish, unpeeled fruit, uncooked vegetables or salad if you are in a country where Hepatitis A is common.
A vaccine is recommended if:
- You are an injecting drug user or have a sexual partner who injects drugs
- A sex worker (male or female)
- You change your sexual partner frequently
- If you travel to a country where Hepatitis is widespread
- Never share any drug-injecting equipment with other people
- Always use a condom whilst having sex
Further information can be found at NHS Choices:
Hepatitis A http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis-a/pages/introduction.aspx
Hepatitis B http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis-b/pages/introduction.aspx
Hepatitis C http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis-c/pages/introduction.aspx
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