Saturday, February 23, 2008

Do you have Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a disease characterized by inflammation, swelling and tenderness of the liver, most frequently caused by a virus. The most common types are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. The less common ones are hepatitis D, E and G. Each form is caused by a different and specific virus. Hepatitis B and C can lead to serious permanent liver damage and even liver cancer, called Hepatoma, which is deadly.

Hepatitis A virus is contracted by eating food or drinking water that is contaminated by human feces, or even by oral or anal sex, but not through normal heterosexual genital to genital sex. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 150,000 people in the United States are infected with hepatitis A virus each year. This acute disease usually resolves itself within six months and does not develop into a chronic illness.

Getting a tatoo or body piercing, blood transfusion, intravenous drug use (as among addicts), those with multiple sex partners increase the risk of hepatitis B or C, which are the two serious forms of hepatitis that could lead to cirrhosis (damage-scarring) or liver cancer. Healthcare workers (accidental needle stick victims) and hemophiliac patients also have a higher risk of getting the virus.

Most people with Hep-B or Hep-C infection do not have any recognizable symptoms or signs. One can be feeling well, have the virus, and infect others. Some people develop flu-like symptoms (fever, weakness, tiredness, mild abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting). Sometimes, the skin and the eyes turn yellow (jaundice) and the urine becomes dark. Only blood test can confirm the presence of the infection.

Just like many infections, hepatitis can be avoided. Some of the habits that can help prevent hepatitis infection are: making sure food and drinks are free from contamination and the food handler is free of hepatitis, washing hands regularly, practicing safe sex, never sharing objects such as nail file, nail clipper, razors, needles, toothbrushes, silverwares, etc. When getting a tattoo, a manicure or body piercing, make sure the instruments are sterile. Those exposed to blood in their work (healthcare or daycare center workers, etc.) or those who live with, or exposed to, infected persons should be vaccinated against Hep-B and Hep-A.