The word Hepatitis means an inflammation of the liver. This condition can be self-limiting or can even progress to fibrosis, cirrhosis, or cancer of the liver.
Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world but in addition to it, other infections, toxic substances (e.g. alcohol, certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases can also lead to hepatitis. There are 5 main hepatitis virus types which are A, B, C, D, and E. These 5 types are of a major cause of concern because of the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread and the burden of illness and death they cause.
In particular, Hepatitis B and C are the most common cause of deaths, with 1.4 million lives lost each year and together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer. Amidst the current pandemic, viral hepatitis continues to take thousands of lives each day.
Hepatitis A and E are generally caused by the ingestion of contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B, C, and D typically occur as a result of parenteral contact with infected body fluids. Common routes of transmission for these viruses include:
- Contaminated blood or blood products
- Invasive medical procedures using contaminated equipment and
- Hepatitis B transmission from mother to baby at birth or from a family member to child
- Sexual contact
Acute infection may occur with little or no symptoms or may include symptoms such as:
- Jaundice (yellowness of the skin and the white areas of the eyes)
- Dark urine
- Extreme fatigue
- Abdominal pain
World Hepatitis Day is commemorated each year on the 28th of July to spread awareness of viral hepatitis. Around 290 million people over the world are living with viral hepatitis without being aware. If we do not find the undiagnosed ones and help them recuperate, millions will continue to lose their lives.
This year’s theme is “Hepatitis-free future,” with a major focus on preventing Hepatitis B (HBV) among mothers and newborns as HBV can be prevented among newborns through the use of safe and effective vaccines.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Hepatitis?
Some people with hepatitis show no signs of having the disease. Others may have these symptoms:
- Overly tired
- Flu-like symptoms
- Jaundice - Yellowing of skin and whites of eyes
- Stomach pain (especially on the upper right side)
- Dark brown pee
- Light-colored stools (poop)
- Poor appetite for days in a row or weight loss
Let’s see what are the causative factors of Hepatitis A, B, C, and D in children.
What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is the most common type of hepatitis to contract in children. The virus generally lives in stools of the people who are already infected. Hence, it's important to wash your hands before eating and after going to the bathroom. If you don't and use the same hands to handle and eat food, Hepatitis A virus might end up in your food, and ultimately inside your body.
Fruits, vegetables, and shellfish (such as prawns and lobster) also can carry hepatitis if they were bred in contaminated water or in unsanitary conditions. Hepatitis A does affect people for a short time, but they recover and it does not come back.
Can Hepatitis A Be Prevented?
Yes, it can. But one needs to follow the following steps to help keep them safe from hepatitis A:
- Regular and thorough hand washing - especially after going to the bathroom or diapering a baby, and before eating
- Washing fruits and vegetables before eating them
- Do not eat raw shellfish
- Getting the vaccine for Hepatitis A - Getting vaccinated helps a person's body make antibodies that protect against hepatitis infection. The hepatitis A vaccine is now given to all kids when they're between 1 and 2 years old, and to people who are traveling to countries where the virus could get into the food and water supply.
What about Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C?
Although Hepatitis A is a short-term illness that goes away completely, hepatitis B and hepatitis C can turn into serious long-term illnesses for some people.
Teens and young adults are more at risk for getting these two viruses. Hepatitis B and C get passed from person to person the same ways that HIV does
- Through direct contact with infected body fluids. Hepatitis B and C are even more easily passed in fluids and needles than HIV
- Through sexual contact
- By sharing needles (used to inject illegal drugs) that have been contaminated with infected blood
- Even when infected people don't have any symptoms, they can still pass the disease on to others
Sometimes mothers with Hepatitis B or C pass the virus along to their babies when they're born. Hepatitis B and C also can get passed in ways you might not expect it to such as:
- Getting a manicure or pedicure with unsterilized nail clippers or other dirty instruments.
- Getting a tattoo, if dirty needles are used, is another way someone can get Hepatitis B or C
How to prevent Hepatitis B and C?
Nowadays, all babies get vaccinated against the hepatitis B virus in a series of three shots over a 6-month period. Doctors also recommend vaccination for all kids and teens younger than 19 years old that had not been vaccinated as babies or didn’t receive all the three doses. Unfortunately, there's no vaccine for Hepatitis C yet.
What Do Doctors Do?
A doctor who thinks someone may have hepatitis may ask questions like these:
- Has the person been around any child who works in health care or childcare?
- Did the person stick him or herself with a dirty needle or get a tattoo with a dirty needle?
- Did the person have contact with the bodily fluids of someone who has hepatitis infection?
- Did the person have a blood transfusion when they were a baby?
- Have any of the person's family members had hepatitis?
- Could the person have eaten food that was contaminated?
- The doctor can order a blood test to see if someone has hepatitis and accordingly treat
How Is Hepatitis Treated?
- Drink enough fluids
- Eat healthy and fresh foods
- Get adequate rest
- Family members may need to get hepatitis vaccines if they haven't
- Get follow-up blood tests
- Sometimes, the blood tests may show that someone is a carrier of hepatitis but he or she won't have hepatitis symptoms but could pass the infection to other people
- Sometimes, blood tests will continue to show that some people still have Hepatitis B or C, which means they may have chronic (long-lasting) hepatitis. If so, they will need to eat healthy foods and take very good care of themselves by getting rest and visiting the doctor regularly.
- In some cases, someone with chronic hepatitis may get special medicine for the condition.
Let’s keep our children and ourselves safe by using the above information. Let’s take care of our liver health as well by washing our hands thoroughly.