Hepatitis: The Silent Killer

small logo
What is 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.

How does one get hepatitis infection?

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.

Can one get hepatitis from tatooing?

Yes, 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.

Is hepatitis more prevalent than HIV?

Hepatitis B and C are more prevalent than HIV. An estimated 1.2 million Americans are currently chronic carriers of Hep-B virus and about 4.5 million of Hep-C virus. Hepatitis B may develop into a chronic illness (lasting loner than 6 months) in about 10% of the 200,000 that are infected each year. About 85% of those 150,000 infected annually with Hepatitis C result in chronic infection. Among these chronic Hep-B and Hep-C patients, liver cirrhosis and liver cancer are common.

Page Two Hepatitis: The Silent Killer Can hepatitis B or C be transmitted by sharing toothbrushes?

Yes, Hep-B and Hep-C can be transmitted by a carrier of the virus to another who share toothbrushes, nail files, straws, when these are contaminated by the blood of the carrier. These are rare instances but they do happen. Hetero or homo-sexual transmission is common. About 33% or more of those hepatitis infections result from unknown sources. Hepatitis B and C are easily transmitted by blood contaminated with the hepatitis virus.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

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.

Can a person with one form of hepatitis get infected with the other type?

A patient with Hep-C infection can also catch Hep-A infection, making the condition a high risk for Fulminant Hepatitis, a very rapid and deadly disease. This is why those patients with Hep-C infection are advised to get vaccination against Hep-A.

Why should people be tested for hepatitis infection?

Once a person gets infected with the hepatitis virus, he/she can become contagious to others in as soon as 2 weeks. This is why it is important that a person who suspects he/she is infected should be tested for the virus.

How do doctors test for hepatitis?

The tests performed for detecting of the infection are liver enzyme (alanine amino transferase) tests and tests for antibiodies (IgM anti HAV, immunoglobulin M anti-hepatitis A virus; HbsAg, hepatitis surface antigen for Hep-B virus; and ELISA, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, RIBA, recombinant immunoblot assay, and HCV RNA, ribonucleic acid by PCR or polymerase chain reaction for Hep-C virus.)

Page Three Hepatitis: The Silent Killer Is alcohol bad for those with hepatitis?

Yes, alcoholic drinks are toxic and greatly weaken an already damaged liver of hepatitis patients. Remember, alcohol alone, without hepatitis infection, can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver failure.

Is hepatitis preventable?

Yes, 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 tatoo, 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.

What is the treatment for hepatitis?

Acute hepatitis A is self-limited and often does not require hospitalization and treatment to eliminate the virus. Physicians may prescribe some medications for headache, nausea, or IV fluids to prevent dehydration from not eating and drinking. For Hep-B and Hep-C, a commercial form of Interferon (which is actually a protein made naturally by our body to boost immunity and regulate other cell functions) is used among patients one year or older. In Hep-C, Rivavirin may also be used in combination with Interferon.

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.