What you need to know about the virus
Every year, hepatitis affects 325 million people worldwide and causes 1.4 million deaths from viral hepatitis B and C alone. Yet, hepatitis is preventable, treatable, and for hepatitis C, curable.
World Hepatitis Day is Sunday 28 July and is one of the eight official global public health campaigns by the World Health Organization which encourages national and international efforts on eliminating hepatitis.
We’ve put together a few FAQs to raise awareness on hepatitis and its impact.
What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an illness that inflames and causes pain in your liver. The liver regulates your metabolism, makes proteins, stores vitamins and removes toxins and unwanted impurities from the blood. If it doesn’t work properly, it can lead to serious illness and sometimes even death.
There are 5 different types of hepatitis and each have different treatments. In Australia, the most common types of hepatitis are hepatitis A, B and C.
What are the different types of hepatitis?
Hepatitis A is spread by coming into contact with contaminated food or drinks, bodily fluids like saliva, or faeces of an infected person.
While hepatitis A is not common in Australia, small outbreaks have occurred, and the risk is higher for people living in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. There is a higher risk of getting hepatitis A when visiting developing countries that have limited access to clean water and sanitation.
While symptoms often last a few weeks, the infected person usually recovers completely, and infection gives lifelong immunity from hepatitis A. It’s important to note it doesn’t give immunity for other types of hepatitis.
Hepatitis B is the most common liver virus worldwide. It is transmitted through the blood, semen, or vaginal secretions of an infected person as they enter the blood stream of someone who is not infected. Hepatitis B is not transmitted through saliva.
Activities that spread hepatitis B include unprotected sex, unsterile injecting equipment, and from mother to child at the time of birth.
People who are exposed to hepatitis B can develop long-term hepatitis B, meaning they have this infection for life. Babies and young children are more likely to develop long-term hepatitis B.
Hepatitis C is spread through blood when the blood from an infected person enters another person’s bloodstream. The most common way this is spread is through the sharing of unsterile injecting equipment.
While you cannot be vaccinated against hepatitis C, the latest treatments are safe, simple and have a 95% cure rate.
Hepatitis D is uncommon in Australia, and it only occurs in people who have hepatitis B. Therefore, a hepatitis B vaccination will prevent infection with hepatitis D.
It is spread through unprotected sex, sharing unsterile injecting equipment, and any activity whereby the blood of an infected person enters your bloodstream.
Hepatitis E is most common in developing countries and is most severe in pregnant women, particularly in their third trimester. Transmission from person to person is not common in Australia, and the virus is spread through eating or drinking contaminate food or water.
Pregnant women are advised not to travel to areas where hepatitis E is prominent, with significant warning during the final three months of pregnancy.
What are the symptoms?
It’s important to note that not everyone with hepatitis will show symptoms. However, hepatitis symptoms often include:
- Discomfort in the abdomen
- Dark urine
- Pain in joints
- Poor appetite
- Easy bruising
- Yellow skin and eyes
What causes hepatitis?
The most common cause of hepatitis are viruses, however other causes include alcohol use, specific medications, toxins, infections and autoimmune diseases.
How can you prevent hepatitis?
You can prevent hepatitis A and B with a vaccination.
For hepatitis transmitted through blood and bodily fluids, it is recommended you use safe needle practices and safe sex practices.
What is the treatment?
The treatment depends on the type of hepatitis diagnosed. Chronic viral hepatitis caused by hepatitis B or C can lead to liver cancer after many years.
House Call Doctor recommends regularly checking in with your local GP if you have any concerns or if you are experiencing any symptoms similar to those listed above. Don’t forget to ask your doctor to order the specific blood tests for hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
House Call Doctor sends a home doctor to you and your family when your regular GP is closed at night and on weekends and public holidays. To book a house call home doctor, patients should call 13 55 66 or book online or via the House Call Doctor App.