Hepatitis explained

For the past 2 years I have been travelling to various countries with my grandmother: Tunisia, Majorca, Morocco and soon the Dominican Republic. Most of these we have had to have vaccinations for; due to poor sanitary conditions in such areas. Previously I have just seen this as a simple requirement and have not really thought about what each disease actually is. Therefore, I have decided to look into one of the most common vaccination required; Hepatitis.

There is a range of different type of hepatitis; however I have only had injections against type A and B. The general term “hepatitis” actually means an inflammation of the liver, which can be a result of several circumstances. Symptoms include muscle pain, a fever, feeling sick, a headache and yellowing of the eyes. Nevertheless, many people are unaware they have the disease as it is caused by a virus and so a lot of cases have no noticeable symptoms at all.webmd_rf_photo_of_liver_and_hepatitis_virus

Hepatitis A is caused by eating something contaminated with the faeces of an infected person. This is less common in England with only 350 cases annually; poorer countries with meagre sewage disposal are most affected. This type is prevented with a vaccination that lasts 6 months, and then a booster could last more than 20 years. There is no particular treatment available, other than treating the symptoms as the infection is usually short term; passing within 3 months.

Hepatitis B is uncommon in the UK as it is predominantly spread by unprotected sex, sharing needles to administer drugs; through fluids including semen and vaginal fluids. The virus can be fought off within a couple of months. However, it can develop into a long-term infection known as chronic hepatitis B which causes cirrhosis and liver cancer. This can be treated with antiviral medication. Those working in healthcare institutions have to be immunized as they are in an environment where injecting drugs (for medical purposes), may occur.

The most common type is hepatitis C as 215,000 people have chronic hepatitis C. Primarily caused by the virus which is found in blood, this type causes no noticeable symptoms. In 3 of 4 people affected, chronic hepatitis can ensue which can cause liver failure and cirrhosis. Antiviral medication is again the only available treatment, but there is currently no vaccine against this type.

Hepatitis can also be caused by drinking excessive alcohol as you are likely to develop liver failure. In addition, there are rarer types; hepatitis D and E. D is specific as it can only occur in people already infected with hepatitis B, and D basically increases the risk of cirrhosis developing. Rarer type E is only a short-term infection transferred in the same way as hepatitis A. Finally, autoimmune hepatitis follows if the body’s white blood cells attack the liver which can cause inflammation. Fortunately medicines that suppress the autoimmune response are available as well as steroids which gradually reduce the swelling.pg28-lrg

Indeed, I had not realised how many forms of hepatitis existed as well as how severe the disease can get. Recently a family relative has been diagnosed with hepatitis C, which confirms how common this type is. Hence, I encourage everyone travelling to new areas of the world to ensure they are vaccinated against relevant types of hepatitis, as well as any other immunisations that their GP recommends. For more information on hepatitis visit: http://worldhepatitisday.org/en/learn-the-facts. If you intend on travelling soon be sure to check http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/destinations.aspx for updated health advice if you are departing from the UK.

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