The liver is an important organ in the body with a critical role. One of the largest organs in the body and located in the upper portion of the abdomen, it is vital for detoxification. Blood travels through the digestive tract into the liver, where it is metabolized and toxins are filtered. One of the most common ailments that affect the liver is Hepatitis. This World Hepatitis Day let us understand the various types of Hepatitis and how to prevent the infection. Hepatitis is a group of disorders that causes liver inflammation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 100 million people worldwide are suffering from Hepatitis which is undiagnosed. This is because specifically two forms, i.e. Hepatitis B and C damage the liver slowly over a period of time without any symptoms. It is for this reason that Hepatitis has been given the moniker of ‘the silent killer’.
Hepatitis is categorized into 5 main types – Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.
Hepatitis A and E: These two forms of Hepatitis refer to contagious liver infection transmitted through infected food or water. Typically the virus spreads through feces of an infected person that contaminates the water or food source. Symptoms of Hepatitis A or E infection can include jaundice, stomach pain, change in the colour of urine, and change in excretion, appetite loss, pain in the joints, loose motions, fatigue, fever etc. Hepatitis E is commonly seen in areas with lack of access to clean water and poor hygiene habits. Most of the time, this is self-treatable or can be managed. People can recover within a few months however it can be harmful for people with lower immunity, the elderly, and people with co-morbidities or pregnant women.
Hepatitis B and C: These two types of Hepatitis are the most prevalent in India, the symptoms of which often do not appear immediately. A person with Hepatitis B or C may remain asymptomatic for a period of up to 12 weeks and can still be contagious. The symptoms of this infection include dark urine, body pain – joints and muscles, pain in the abdomen, yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice), low appetite, weakness, among others. Contraction of Hepatitis B or C virus may occur through vaginal, oral or anal sex, contaminated needle coming into contact with the blood stream in unhygienic tattoos parlours, or the use of IV drugs. People with multiple sex partners who often engage in unprotected sex, males who have sex with males, people with pre-existing conditions such as kidney , liver disease or diabetics, the elderly or immune-compromised are at a higher risk of contracting Hepatitis B and C. A pregnant mother with Hepatitis B may also pass on the disease to her child.
Also read: Can hepatitis C cause kidney failure?
People with Hepatitis B and C infections are at an increased risk of developing chronic liver disease, liver cirrhosis or liver cancer. Quite often, patients with liver cancer are found to be diagnosed with Hepatitis B which goes unnoticed in the early stages. Hepatitis infection can be prevented by taking the vaccinations (currently available for Hepatitis A and B) and by avoiding all the risk factors. Individuals who are suffering from chronic liver or kidney disease or AIDS must ensure that they take the vaccination as Hepatitis infection in them could easily turn serious. Before travelling to any country which is endemic to a type of Hepatitis, ensure that you take the vaccination. Be extra cautious of hygiene in these places, avoid drinking tap water and instead use bottled water. Be careful of the water used to prepare food as well, and rather choose pre-packaged foods if you are in a particularly high risk area. In general, practice healthy sexual habits and be careful to maintain hygiene during sex. Avoid suspicious places that use tools that can pierce the skin, such as razors and needles. Before visiting tattoo and piercing parlours, acupuncture clinics, barbers, medical facilities, ensure that the place is highly reputed and follows safety and hygiene protocols.
In addition to this, it is good to practice immunity building and safe lifestyle habits to keep the liver healthy and strong. Eat a rich and balanced diet with plenty of greens and colored fruits, vegetables and nuts and drink enough water. Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol, processed food with high sodium and fat content, and the use of narcotics as these can all damage the liver over a period of time and result in chronic liver disease.
(Disclaimer: The author is Dr Veerendra Sandur, Lead Consultant – Medical Gastroenterology, Aster RV Hospital. Views expressed are a personal opinion.)