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Hepatitis: Symptoms, Causes and

Hepatitis A Virus

Hepatitis is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver. The most common forms are Hepatitis A, B and C.

The liver is a vital organ because it filters and detoxifies everything we consume. It stores glucose from carbohydrates, in the form of glycogen (the body’s major source of energy), selects vitamins and minerals, metabolizes alcohol, regulates fat stores and manages the production and excretion of cholesterol. The liver also produces bile, which is responsible for the digestion and absorption of nutrients from the food we eat. Another important liver function is the removal of bacteria from the bloodstream, so that they do not cause illness.

Newly infected patients often show no symptoms. When symptoms do appear they include

  • a short, mild, flu-like illness
  • nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • jaundice (yellow skin and whites of eyes, darker yellow urine and pale feces)
  • itchy skin
  • abdominal pain.

Hepatitis B is similar to hepatitis A in its symptoms, but is more likely to cause chronic long-term illness and permanent damage to the liver if not treated. The hepatitis C virus is more persistent than hepatitis A or B. Estimates suggest that 170 million people are worldwide chronically infected with hepatitis C, with 3 to 4 million people newly infected each year.

If a person lives with hepatitis C infection for a number of years then they may develop the following complications:

  • chronic hepatitis
  • liver cirrhosis
  • liver cancer

According to the Hepatitis Foundation International, hepatitis A is commonly spread through food and water, nappy changing tables that have not been cleaned properly and anal-oral contact, whereby something contaminated with feces is put into the mouth. Hepatitis B and C are most commonly transmitted via blood or body fluids, through unprotected sex with an infected person, sharing drugs, needles and contaminated objects.

You can protect yourself from hepatitis by:

  • Washing fruit and vegetables thoroughly before consumption.
  • Washing hands with soap and water regularly especially before eating and after visiting toilets.
  • Practicing safe sex.
  • Never sharing anything that is potentially contaminated for example needles, toothbrushes, nail clippers, razors, body piercing tools.
  • Always wearing gloves when handling other people’s blood.
  • Vaccination against hepatitis A and B. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

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