Hepatitis A & B

February 4, 2009

Hepatitis, The Virus That Attacks The Liver

Hepatitis is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver and, depending upon which variety of hepatitis a person has, it can cause symptoms ranging from flu-like malaise to cirrhosis of the liver and cancer. There are seven known types of hepatitis, however, three types are most commonly found in the general population. Of the three common types, two are sexually transmitted and are considered STDs, hepatitis A and hepatitis B.

Hepatitis A, Preventable with Proper Hygiene

Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is spread through the contaminated feces of infected people. In places where proper hygiene is not practiced or where sanitation and sewage infrastructure are lacking, hepatitis A is more prevalent. It is classed as a sexually transmitted disease because it can be passed on through sexual activity but with careful washing of the genital and anal areas before sex, and the use of condoms or dental dams, the virus can be prevented. All age groups can be affected with hepatitis A and once they are exposed, the infected person will exhibit symptoms within two to six weeks.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include flu-like illness with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea; loss of appetite and resulting weight loss; jaundice and itchy skin and abdominal pain. The symptoms usually clear up within a couple of months and the individual seldom experiences any kind of permanent damage to the liver. Once a person has had hepatitis A, they are immune to it permanently.

Hepatitis B, The Most Common Variety Of The Virus

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is very common with more than 350 million people worldwide infected with the virus. A person who has had HBV long term is at high risk for developing cirrhosis or the liver or liver cancer. It is passed on through body fluids and is thought to be 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV. HBV is spread through unprotected penetrative sex with an infected person or by sex which draws blood with someone who is infected with HBV. Sharing contaminated needles or using unsterilized needles to do piercings, tattooing or acupuncture will all spread the virus. An infected mother can give the infection to her baby during the birthing process so it is advised that babies receive immunization at birth. Unscreened blood transfusions are yet another method of transmitting the virus.

Who Becomes A Carrier Of The Virus?

Infected people exhibit all of the same symptoms as those with hepatitis A and, overall, most people recover fully from the virus and end up permanently immune. Between two and ten percent become carriers of the virus and infected babies, in particular, tend to become chronic carriers of the virus. The end result for the person who lives with hepatitis B for many years may be chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. If the situation warrants treatment, then the person will receive an antiviral medication to prevent further liver damage and be encouraged to stop drinking alcohol and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

 

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