July 28, 2020 / educational / recommended
There are millions of people affected with Hepatitis worldwide each and every year. While the majority of people are familiar with the term “Hepatitis”, it is not a topic widely discussed, and a large number of those infected may be completely unaware. In recognition of World Hepatitis Day, we hope to shed light on this illness, how it may manifest, and what can be done for prevention.
What is Hepatitis?
The word ‘Hepatitis’ is derived from the Greek words ‘hepar’ meaning “liver”, and ‘itis’ meaning “inflammation” and it occurs when there is swelling of the liver tissue. This swelling is primarily caused by a virus, however could also occur in non-viral disease, and interrupts some of the critical functions of the liver which includes: filtering toxins/chemicals from the body, controlling digestion and producing important proteins. The illness may vary from an acute – short-lasting – course of a few weeks, to a chronic – longer lasting – course of months to years.
Symptoms of Hepatitis may range from non-specific fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, fever to more specific and severe vomiting, darkened urine, and jaundice – a yellowing of the skin and eyes – caused by an excess of bilirubin, which is normally regulated by the liver.
Viral Hepatitis is spread primarily through the ingestion of contaminated food or water, the use of dirty needles or syringes, and by practicing unprotected sex. There are 5 types of viral Hepatitis including the more common variations A, B, and C which account for around 90% of all acute cases in Canada.
Hepatitis A (HAV) is a short-term and acute disease which is transmitted through the consumption of food or water that has been contaminated by the feces of another person with HAV. This typically occurs with poor hand hygiene.
Hepatitis B & C
Hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV) are chronic forms of Hepatitis which can be contracted through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person through injection drug use, unprotected sex, and by sharing personal hygiene products such as razors. HCV is one of the most common bloodborne viral infections in the United States with around 2.7 to 3.9 million people living with the disease.
Hepatitis D (HDV) is a rarer but more severe form of Hepatitis that can only develop with the presence of HBV. This serious liver disease is transmitted directly through contact with the HBV- infected blood of another person.
Hepatitis E (HEV), which is more common in areas with poor sanitation (in developing countries, for instance) is the waterborne variant of Hepatitis that is contacted through the consumption of water that has been contaminated with HEV-infected fecal matter.
Non-viral Hepatitis is usually caused by an overload of toxins in your liver from excessive consumption of alcohol or from certain medications. Certain autoimmune conditions can also be responsible for causing significant liver swelling. This could lead to scarring of the liver, referred to as cirrhosis, and ultimately liver failure.
How do I Avoid Contamination from Viral Hepatitis?
Please remember that all forms of Hepatitis are potentially lethal. The single most effective way to prevent viral Hepatitis is through immunization. We recommend speaking to your Doctor in regards to vaccinations against Hepatitis.
Other important ways to minimize your risk of contracting viral Hepatitis are these following hygiene tips:
1- Wash your hands after using the washroom or changing diapers, especially if you will be handling food.
2- When travelling, particularly to developing countries, always ensure that you are drinking from a safe water source, avoid ice cubes in your beverages, only eat freshly cooked foods and avoid non-peelable fruits and vegetables.
3- Cook your food to a safe internal temperature (see Here for Health Canada’s recommendations which can be measured with a cooking thermometer).
4- Practice safe, protected sex and get tested for Hepatitis annually to protect yourself and others.
5- Never share needles or other drug equipment with others.
6- Avoid sharing personal hygiene items such as toothbrushes and razors which can hold traces of blood.
7- Ensure that when receiving a tattoo, piercing, or acupuncture treatment that the needles used are sterile and handled by a professional that is wearing gloves.
8- Always wear surgical gloves when coming in contact with another person’s blood.
9- If you contract Hepatitis, avoid preparing foods, sharing personal items, or having intercourse with others to ensure that you do not pass it on to someone else.