Hepatitis: What You Need to Know

By Rebecca Jones

Considering that it is one of the world’s leading causes of preventable death it is no wonder that the Institute of Medicine is demanding that the U.S. raise public awareness of the dangers of contracting hepatitis. In this country alone nearly 5 million people are infected with either hepatitis B or C and of the 1 -50 people infected the most frightening thing is that most do not even know they have it. The best way to protect yourself from this invisible killer is to understand how hepatitis is spread and learn what measures you can take to keep you and your family safe. Read on to learn about the many varieties of hepatitis and what you can do to help stop this epidemic.

What is Hepatitis

Hepatitis itself is defined by an inflammation of the liver that can range from mild flu-like symptoms to chronic illness and liver failure.  The liver is responsible for removing toxins from our blood, when it becomes inflamed the body is no longer able to metabolize not only drugs and alcohol but the naturally occurring toxins produced by the body itself.  Even though all types of hepatitis are preventable and treatable symptoms usually do not appear until the disease is advanced and chronic liver disease or liver cancer are present. This year it is expected that 15,000 Americans will die of hepatitis and that nearly half of all liver transplants will be performed because of the effects of the untreated virus.

The most common types of hepatitis are viral in nature. Although types A, B, C, D, and E are all viral infections they are not spread in the same way. Hepatitis B and C are by far the most prevalent of all varieties and the most deadly. Hepatitis C spreads only through blood contact, hepatitis B can be transmitted through the exchange of any bodily fluid which can occur through unprotected sex, contaminated tattoo instruments or sharing of hypodermic needles. Hepatitis A can be contracted by consuming contaminated food or water, raw shellfish from contaminated water is one source in particular that needs to be avoided. While most people are able to fight off and recover from hepatitis those who contract hepatitis C are at a greater risk of the disease becoming chronic and ultimately deadly. Though far less common hepatitis can also be contracted from exposure to toxins such as excessive use of drugs and alcohol or present as an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the liver without a virus present.

Hepatitis Symptoms

Though it is hard to recognize hepatitis from it’s symptoms alone there are some that you should watch out for:

  • Flu like symptoms including fever, fatigue, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting and joint pain
  • Yellowing of the eyes or skin
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark colored urine
  • Change in appearance of stool

Your doctor can administer a hepatitis blood test that will ultimately be able to confirm whether this virus is causing your symptoms.

Protecting Yourself

Despite the ever increasing prevalence of hepatitis there are measures you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones.

  • Always practice safe sex
  • Never share razors, needles or tooth brushes
  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B
  • Wash hands frequently
  • If you believe you are at risk seek early diagnosis and treatment

As public awareness of this growing threat increases so does funding for ongoing research, already there are many treatments and vaccinations available for people who have or are at risk of contracting hepatitis. By staying informed and being proactive about your health you can help stop the rise of hepatitis in it’s tracks.