Most people have heard of hepatitis, but not many know much about it. There are a few different types, and that’s where people start to get confused.
If you work in healthcare, then you will be familiar with hepatitis B and the need to be vaccinated.
On the 28th of July, it is World hepatitis Day, and the theme for this year’s campaign is ‘I Can’t Wait’. The aim is to raise awareness to get tested and eliminate the disease by 2030. 1.1 million lives are lost each year to hepatitis B and C.
What is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by a virus that’s spread in the poo of an infected person. Hepatitis A is uncommon in the UK but is widespread in other parts of the world such as Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the Far East and Central and South America.
It is recommended that you get vaccinated before travelling to these areas, the vaccination is freely available on the NHS, just contact your GP practice.
Where can you get hepatitis A?
- Eating food prepared by someone with the infection who has not washed their hands properly.
- Drinking contaminated water, including ice cubes
- Eating raw or undercooked shellfish from contaminated water
- Close contact with someone who has hepatitis A
What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?
- Feeling tired and generally unwell
- Joint and muscle pain
- A raised temperature
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling or being sick
- Pain in the upper right part of your tummy
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Dark pee and pale poo
- Itchy skin
Hepatitis A treatment
- There is currently no cure, but it usually gets better on its own after a couple of months.
- Get plenty of rest
- Avoid alcohol
- Stay off work
- Practice good hygiene
What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a liver infection that is spread through blood, semen and vaginal fluids. The infection lasts for a few months, but some people can have it long-term.
Adults in the UK will be given the vaccine for hepatitis B if their job puts them at risk for example in healthcare.
Where can you get hepatitis B?
- Having vaginal, anal or oral sex without using a condom or dam
- Injecting drugs using shared needles
- Being injured by a used needle
- Having a tattoo or piercing with unsterilised equipment
- Having a blood transfusion in a country that does not check blood for hepatitis B. Blood transfusions in the UK are checked for hepatitis B.
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B?
- A high temperature
- Pain in your upper tummy
- Feeling sick or being sick
- Patches of raised skin that may be itchy (hives)
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
Hepatitis B treatment
- Hepatitis B usually clears up on its own.
- You may be offered treatment for the symptoms such as painkillers
- Your GP will refer you to a liver specialist to check your liver is functioning and you’ll have regular checkups.
- You may be given antivirals to relieve the symptoms of itching and sickness.
If left untreated chronic hepatitis can cause liver damage and increase your risk of liver cancer.
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a virus that can infect the liver, if it is not treated, then it can cause life-threatening damage to the liver.
Where can you get hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact. The most common way is sharing needles. It is estimated that around half of those who inject drugs in the UK are infected with hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C has very few noticeable symptoms and is often not detected until significant liver damage has occurred.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?
- Flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches and a high temperature (fever)
- Feeling tired all the time
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach ache
- Feeling and being sick
Hepatitis C can be treated with medication to stop the virus from multiplying. The drugs need to be taken for several weeks.
It is important to remember that you do not have immunity once you have recovered.
Help raise awareness this year to eradicate the disease for good.
For more information see https://www.worldhepatitisday.org/