Hepatitis (plural hepatitides) implies injury to the liver characterized by the presence of inflammatory cells in the tissue of the organ. The name is from ancient Greek hepar , the root being hepat, meaning liver, and suffix -itis, meaning "inflammation" . The condition can be self-limiting, healing on its own, or can progress to scarring of the liver. Hepatitis is acute when it lasts less than six months and chronic when it persists longer. A group of viruses known as the hepatitis viruses cause most cases of liver damage worldwide. Hepatitis can also be due to toxins (notably alcohol), other infections or from autoimmune process. It may run a subclinical course when the affected person may not feel ill. The patient becomes unwell and symptomatic when the disease impairs liver functions that include, among other things, removal of harmful substances, regulation of blood composition, and production of bile to help digestion.
Major Types of Hepatitis
• Hepatitis A
• Hepatitis B
• Hepatitis C
The hepatitis A virus (also known as HAV) is transmitted by eating or drinking something that is contaminated. Raw or undercooked food, food handled by people who have not washed their hands, or water contaminated by animal or human waste are often sources of the virus.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is the most prevalent hepatitis strain in the world. People with acute HBV or who are carriers can spread the virus by sexual contact or through blood and other body fluids.
Many people infected with the hepatitis B virus recover completely and develop lifelong immunity to the virus. Unfortunately, about 90 per cent of babies born to mothers who are hepatitis B carriers have a high chance of developing chronic HBV in later life, which can lead to diseases such as cirrhosis and cancer of the liver.
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) was first characterized in 1989. Injection drug use is associated with at least half of HCV infections but you can also get HCV through tattooing and body piercing. In Canada, it is estimated that between 210,000 and 275,000 people are currently infected with hepatitis C, of whom only 30 per cent know they have the virus. At present there is no vaccine against HCV.
Up to 90 per cent of infected persons carry HCV indefinitely. Over the long term, they are at risk of such illnesses as profound fatigue, cirrhosis, and liver cancer.
To prevent HCV, don't share needles or syringes, and use condoms during sexual intercourse.