Understanding Hepatitis

Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) is usually caused by one of three viruses. It can also stern from lifestyle and over-indulgence. In some cases it is life threatening. The viruses that cause hepatitis are known as A. Band C; D and E also exist, but are much rarer. Non-infectious hepatitis can occur as a result of alcohol abuse, industrial chemicals. Some autoimmune disorders (in which your immune system attacks your liver) or drug overdose, for example paracetamol. Other viruses, such as glandular fever or cytomegalovirus, can cause hepatitis. Hepatitis can be acute or chronic, and will need medical attention. The acute illness lasts for a few months, has no long-term effects and gradually you feel better. The chronic illness is more serious, since it can destroy the liver.

HELPING YOURSELF

Noninfectious hepatitis can be prevented by avoiding excesses of alcohol. Viral hepatitis is spread in contaminated blood, water and food is most likely to be caught in developing countries. Vaccines are available against hepatitis A and B and are usually recommended for people at high risk, including health care workers and travelers to these countries.

Good hygiene is essential while traveling. Drink only boiled or bottled water, avoid ice in drinks and don’t eat food stored or prepared in unhygienic conditions. You should also avoid unprotected sex or sharing needles.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Many hepatitis patients recover without treatment; the doctor will recommend rest for a few weeks until the jaundice disappears. Because of the liver’s role in digestion, you may be advised not to take certain drugs (such as birth control pills) or alcohol. Jaundice can last many months, leaving you feeling very tired, even after the infection has passed. You should help the liver recover by avoiding alcohol for as long as your doctor says.

If you have hepatitis A you must avoid spreading it to other people in your household. Use separate eating utensils and be extra vigilant about hygiene. People who have contracted hepatitis B or C can be carriers; a mother can pass hepatitis B to her child by breastfeeding.

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