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Hepatitis: What you need to know

There are still more than 400 million people around the world infected with hepatitis B or C. Only about 1 in 20 people with viral hepatitis know they are infected and only 1 in 100 cases are treated. This year’s World Hepatitis Day has been given the theme “Know Hepatitis–Act Now” and everyone is encouraged to learn about the disease, get tested and vaccinated and, if necessary, seek treatment early.

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis describes an inflammation of the liver that can be the result of:

a) a viral infection, like in cases of hep A, B, C, D, and E
b) liver damage caused by excess alcohol intake (alcoholic hepatitis)
c) liver damage caused by the body’s immune system attacking the organ (autoimmune hepatitis).

The disease can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic) which, if untreated, causes liver scarring (cirrhosis) or even liver cancer.

How is hepatitis transmitted and how do I keep safe?

Hepatitis A and E are transmitted through contaminated food and water, so be aware of what you ingest in areas where the virus is common. Washing your hands often with warm, soapy water, especially after using the toilet and before eating, can also help.

Hepatitis B, C and D are transmitted through blood or sexual contact. Unprotected sex and needle sharing can increase the risk of hep B, C and D infection.

Vaccines are available for types A and B, and are highly encouraged, especially if you are in contact with blood or if you are travelling to countries where the disease is prevalent. Hepatitis D is only contractible if you are already infected with hepatitis B, so vaccinating against type B protects from D, too.

You can minimize the risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis by reducing the amount of alcohol you consume. Decreasing the amount you drink to less than 14 units of alcohol per week can help your liver slowly recover, even if you have drunk excessively in the past.

Autoimmune hepatitis is quite rare and still under-researched, but treatment involves medication that suppresses the immune system and reduces inflammation.

What are the signs that I may need to see my GP?

See your GP if you experience the following symptoms for an extended period of time:

  • Muscle and joint pain
  • A fever of at least 38C
  • Feeling and being sick
  • Feeling unusually tired
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tummy pain
  • Dark urine
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Pale, gray-coloured stool
  • Itchy Skin
  • Yellow eyes and skin (jaundice)

Because both acute and chronic hepatitis may be present without any symptoms, the disease must be picked up through blood tests. Adults over 40-years-old and those who often come in contact with blood or infected water/food can benefit from yearly check-ups during which you can be tested for a variety of conditions and diseases.

If you’d like to find out more about hepatitis and liver health, check out the British Liver Trust.

Find out more about the routine and travel vaccinations that GPDQ can provide in the comfort of your home, office or hotel.