The definition of hepatitis is injury to the liver with inflammation of liver cells. There are six kinds of this disease, types A, B, C, D, E, and G, and which one you have is determined by a blood test. All six types are caused by a virus, but each is contracted differently.
Some fast facts on hepatitis include:
- Hepatitis A (HAV) is caused by ingesting contaminated water or food.
- Hepatitis B (HBV) is an STD (sexually transmitted disease)
- Approximately 300 million people worldwide have hepatitis B.
- Hepatitis C (HCV) is spread by direct contact with the blood of an infected person.
- Approximately 250 million people in the world have hepatitis C.
- A person must already be infected with hepatitis B in order to contract hepatitis D (HDV).
- Hepatitis E (HEV) is caused by drinking contaminated water.
- Hepatitis G (HGV) is also caused by a specific virus.
- There is also a hepatitis X, which is diagnosed when a case of hepatitis is contracted by a virus other than those that cause the others.
- The initial symptoms of all of the forms of hepatitis can be confused with flu symptoms.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 1,781 new cases are diagnosed each year. It is caused by an acute viral illness; it never becomes chronic. Like other viruses, it is easily spread, especially when there are unsanitary conditions. It is spread by oral secretions (kissing) and fecal (poor or no hand washing). If proper hand washing does not occur, customers in restaurants and children in daycares are particularly susceptible.
The CDC reports that more than 1,800 people die from chronic HBV each year. It is contracted in many ways:
- The transfer of blood or serum via shared needles
- Transfer of contaminated blood via an accidental needle stick
- Blood transfusions
- To newborns by infected mothers
- Sharing toothbrushes or razors
- Body piercing or tattooing with an infected needle
About 6% to 10% of patients develop chronic HBV. It can last anywhere from six months to decades, and an infected person is contagious as long as they have the disease. Chronic sufferers are also more susceptible to liver cirrhosis, cancer, or failure. It is estimated that there are about two billion people in the world who have this form of hepatitis.
According to the CDC, there are 16,500 new cases of HCV reported each year. It is caused by shared needles, accidental needle sticks, blood transfusions, or hemodialysis. It is also contracted by sexual contact, but those incidents are rare. Over half of patients diagnosed with acute HCV develop chronic infections from which they continue to be contagious. In the United States, alone, 3.2 million people are infected with this common form of hepatitis.
HDV, HEV, and HGV
HDV is the most important one of the three, because patients can contract this virus concurrently with HBV. It requires a protein from HBV in order to survive. It is contracted by some of the same ways HBV is spread, by sexual contact, shared needles, and contaminated blood. The combination of these two viruses are very difficult to treat, and severe cirrhosis (liver scarring) occurs rapidly.
While HDV is similar to HBV, HEV is similar to HAV in terms of disease. It occurs most often in Asia and is contracted by drinking contaminated water.
HGV is a recent discovery. While it resembles HCV, there is still much to be learned about it. Caused by the flavivirus, it is currently under investigation.
Reduce Your Risk
Follow the these guidelines to protect yourself from contracting the disease:
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after using the bathroom.
- Only eat food that has just been cooked.
- Only drink bottled or boiled water.
- Do not eat fruits or vegetables until they have been disinfected.
- Get a HAV vaccine if traveling to countries where the disease is prevalent.
- Practice safe sex.
- Do not share needles, toothbrushes, razors, or manicure tools.
- Get the HBV vaccine series if you are at risk.
- Make sure piercing/tattoo equipment is sterilized.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
Not all forms of hepatitis are viral, however. You can contract the disease from ingesting alcohol, medicines, or other chemicals. You can also develop hepatitis from certain medical conditions, such as a metabolic disorder, an immune-related injury, or a genetic problem.