World Hepatitis Day

28th July is World Hepatitis Day. So, to do our bit, we've put together this fact sheet about the disease.

What is it?

Hepatitis is a term for inflammation of the liver. There are several different types of hepatitis, with varying degrees of severity and symptoms. The different types are:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • Hepatitis D
  • Hepatitis E
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Autoimmune hepatitis 

While some types of hepatitis can come and go without causing you any problems, others can last longer and cause liver scarring, liver failure and even cancer.  

What causes it?

A different virus causes each type of hepatitis, excluding the alcoholic and autoimmune types. Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus, and so on.  

The hepatitis A virus is usually caught from food and water contaminated by the faeces of an infected person. It normally passes in a few months, but can be more serious, even life-threatening. 

The hepatitis B virus is spread in the blood of an infected person. This can be transmitted through contact of bodily fluids, blood or at the time of childbirth. It is common worldwide, although not in the UK.

The hepatitis C virus is spread through blood-to-blood contact and is usually the result of needle sharing and poor medical practice. It can stay in the body for many years, although one in four people will fight off the infection completely.  

The hepatitis D virus only affects persons infected with hepatitis B, and is spread through blood-to-blood contact. It is uncommon in the UK, but fairly prevalent in the Middle East, Africa and South America.

Like with hepatitis A, the hepatitis E virus is spread through consuming contaminated food and water. It is normally a mild illness that can be fought off without treatment.

Alcoholic hepatitis is caused by excessive alcohol consumption. It is common in the UK and the best prevention is to control your drinking.

Autoimmune hepatitis is a case of hepatitis whereby the immune system attacks and damages the liver. It is extremely rare and treatment involves using effective medication to suppress the immune system.

Signs And Symptoms

Hepatitis can present a number of symptoms, including: 

  • Muscular and joint pain
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling unusually tired
  • Appetite loss
  • Dark urine
  • Pale, grey-coloured faeces
  • Itchy skin
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice) 
  • Abdominal pain

However, hepatitis can occasionally produce no symptoms at all.