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The liver is the largest organ of the human body and is said to be the most metabolically active as well; it’s diverse functions are very important in maintaining normal function of the body, therefore a disorder of the liver can cause serious problems to the whole body and can even lead to death. Inflammation of the liver is known as hepatitis (Hep). It can be caused by several factors, some of which can be prevented by vaccination and good personal hygiene.
Over 90% of people with the disease do not know it. This means that an estimated 300 million people — out of the 325 million living with Hepatitis infections worldwide— are unknowningly living with the disease, including 42 million children. This is because the infection presents as asymptomatic in most cases, except in chronic cases.
During the 2020 World Hepatitis Day observed in Nigeria, the Minister of Health stated that about 20 million people out of the approximately 200 million people in the country are chronically infected with hepatitis. This indeed is a reason to be concerned and proactive in preventing the spread of the disease.
Types of Hepatitis
Hepatitis (Hep) can be classified as viral and non-viral. When health professionals speak about hepatitis, they are usually referring to the ones caused by some identified viruses. These are HepA, B, C, D, and E. Research has shown that there are also F and G.
The non-viral type could be caused by excess alcohol consumption, drugs, toxins, other diseases, and even autoimmune factors.
Causes of Hepatitis
As mentioned above, there are several types and each has a different cause. By knowing the causes, you will know how best to protect yourself. Below are some of the causes:
This is caused by the HepA virus. The infection is acute (symptoms develop in a very short time) and just like other viral infections, it is infectious. It is most commonly transmitted by consuming food and/or water contaminated by the feces of an infected person. This is possible when good hand washing habits are not maintained especially after using the toilet.
This is caused by coming in contact with the body fluids of people infected with the HepB virus. Transmission occurs through unprotected sexual intercourse, blood transfusion, sharing of needles/razors/toothbrushes, tattooing, body piercing among others. Unlike HepA, HepC infection is chronic. This infection if left untreated or poorly treated, could lead to other liver diseases like cancer, cirrhosis (excessive scarring), and liver failure.
This is caused by the HepC virus. Its mode of transmission is similar to that of HepB, and it is chronic as well. As a result of its chronic nature, the infected liver might be exposed to other diseases.
It is caused by coming in direct contact with blood infected with the HepD virus. This type is rare because the virus can only survive when there is s preexisting HepB infection. This makes it very serious and difficult to treat.
The virus causing the HepE virus is mostly found in water contaminated with fecal matter. This is why it is more common in underdeveloped cities and nations.
This is not common and its cause is not clearly known, but it is believed to be associated with other autoimmune disorders. In this case, the immune system which is actually responsible for protecting the body against infections will turn around and attack the body cells and organs — including the liver.
Symptoms of Hepatitis
As mentioned earlier, the liver has diverse functions. This includes removal of toxic substances from the body, production of bile needed for digestion, production of body proteins (e.g Albumin). Therefore, an infection to the liver will affect these functions and lead to the manifestation of some of the following symptoms:
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes; a condition known as jaundice.
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
Treatment of Hepatitis
While HepD and HepE currently have no specific treatment, other types can be considerably treated.
Patients infected with the HepA virus usually do not need medication because the infection resolves on its own. A good diet rich in protein and carbohydrates helps to repair damaged liver cells. Patients should avoid alcohol and any drug that can worsen the condition and slow the healing.
2. HepB and HepC
Infection from these two can be treated with antiviral medication. Though this treatment is expensive and might have to be continued for a long duration.
Since this type is caused when the immune system begins to attack the liver, it is treated by using drugs that will suppress the activity of the immune system along with other drugs that will repair the damaged liver cells.
Prevention of Hepatitis
Now that we know how dangerous this disease can be, it is important that we know how to effectively protect ourselves from it. This could be done by:
- Getting vaccinated against HepA and HepB
- Maintaining good personal hygiene of handwashing after using the toilet and before handling food.
- Avoiding the sharing of needles, razors, other sharp objects, and toothbrushes
- Avoid having a blood transfusion in an unsterilized place
- Avoiding promiscuous and unprotected sexual intercourse
- Using protective clothing and equipment while treating patients or performing first aid
- Reducing alcohol consumption or avoiding it completely
- Consulting qualified health professionals before taking medications
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