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Hepatitis: What you need to know

Posted June 03, 2019 by Vivek Bhalla, MD Family Medicine

Hepatitis Blog

Did you know the liver is the second largest organ of the entire body, after the skin? It’s also incredibly important: essential for food digestion, stores a large amount of your body’s energy and is a cleaning machine, eliminating toxins in the body. Hepatitis, usually caused by a type of virus, is an inflammation of the liver.

There are 5 types of Hepatitis, but Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common. Each type has different symptoms and treatment options. There are also vaccines available to prevent some forms of Hepatitis from occurring all together. Each strain can cause potentially life-threatening conditions like cirrhosis or liver cancer, but the viruses’ effects can vary greatly.

  1. Hepatitis A (HAV) is contracted through contaminated food or drink. Infections tend to be on the mild side and clear on their own. However, some cases can be severe, especially in parts of the world with poor sanitation. But vaccines are available and offer a safe and effective immunity. After a person is exposed to HAV, most develop an immunity to future exposures.
  2. Hepatitis B (HBV) is transmitted through exposure to infected blood, semen and saliva. This can occur during childbirth, sexual contact or even sharing a toothbrush. HBV can also be transmitted through contaminated injections during medical procedures or drug use. HBV is a leading cause of liver cancer but is preventable with effective vaccines.
  3. Hepatitis C (HCV) is contracted via exposure to infected blood during a transfusion or intravenous injection. Rarely, it can be acquired through sexual transmission. There is no vaccine for HCV. According to the CDC, roughly 2.4 million people are living with HCV but only about half know they are infected. All baby boomers should be screened for hepatitis C; there are now easier and better tolerated treatment options available.
  4. Hepatitis D (HDV) infections only occur in individuals who also have HBV. This dual infection can turn more serious, progress quicker and damage healthy tissue in larger amounts. HBV vaccines provide protection from this dual system.
  5. Hepatitis E (HEV) is contracted through consumption of contaminated water or food. Though a vaccine does exist, it isn’t widely available, especially in developing countries were outbreaks are most common. 

Another amazing thing about the liver is its ability to regenerate from as little as 25 percent of the original tissue. If you think you may have been exposed, you can take steps to limit further damage to this vital organ and maybe even repair some of it.

Individuals living with hepatitis should take additional steps to protect others from exposure. Talk to your doctor if you think you may have been exposed and get tested. Be sure to update any hepatitis vaccines when traveling to countries that may have an increased risk of contracting HAV or HEV.

Summa Health has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top-performing hospitals in the country for the specialty of gastroenterology. So whatever your symptoms, the Summa Health Digestive Program can help you navigate a diagnosis and provide you with a variety of treatment options. To schedule an appointment with a Summa physician to discuss treatment for your gastrointestinal condition, call 330.761.1111

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If your situation is an emergency, call 911.