Hepatitis symptoms what you need to know
Hepatitis is a viral infection of the liver causing inflammation and, if left untreated and undetected, liver damage which may lead to liver failure and premature death. Most people are aware of the three main strands of the hepatitis virus – A, B and C, all of which are infectious and transmitted via bodily fluids. Autoimmune hepatitis is an entirely different condition caused by the immune system of the body mistaking the liver for a foreign body and attacking it.
Most hepatitis symptoms are slow to appear – perhaps not until many years after the initial infection. They also tend to be vague and non-specific – cases have been noted of patients being diagnosed with extreme fatigue syndrome, when, in fact, they had hepatitis. Hepatitis A however does usually present with a rapid onset of severe symptoms. The most common hepatitis symptoms are as follows -
- Extreme, unexplained fatigue and listlessness
- Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Persistent headaches
- Intolerable itching of the skin
- Aches and pains in the muscles and joints
- Jaundice – yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Abdominal pain and pain in the area around the liver
- Pale stools
- Dark urine – urine may also have a cloudy appearance
Vaccinations are available for both hepatitis A and hepatitis B, no vaccination currently exists for hepatitis C.
The hepatitis A vaccine is given over in three doses over a number of weeks and will provide protection for up to twenty years.
Hepatitis B vaccine should be administered to newborns within twelve hours of birth followed by two more doses before the age of six months. The vaccination provides protection of more than fifteen years for adults; it is not recommended that booster shots be given.
The hepatitis virus is extremely contagious; the absence of any hepatitis symptoms does not mean an individual is not infectious.
There are many myths surrounding the transmission of hepatitis – the virus cannot be transmitted via shared utensils, hugging, kissing, coughing or sneezing. Misguided beliefs about the virus means that some individuals, with or without hepatitis symptoms, suffer unnecessary social stigma and even social exclusion because of their condition.
Hepatitis A can be transmitted via contaminated food or water as a result of poor personal hygiene practice. Hepatitis A can be passed via faecal matter – good hand washing routines will prevent this type of contamination.
Hepatitis is generally passed via infected bodily fluids and there are a number of high risk groups including the following -
- Intravenous drug users who share needles and drug paraphernalia
- Participants in unprotected sex – with increased risk where multiple partners are involved
- Medical workers who may be at risk to accidental needle stick injury
- Infants born to infected mothers
Hepatitis very often resolves unaided but does have the potential to become a chronic condition – if symptoms are presented it is essential to seek the advice of a medical professional.