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ABCs of Hepatitis

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The liver is a powerhouse that carries out over 500 vital tasks to ensure the human body runs like a well-oiled machine. Aside from filtering blood, some of its main functions include producing bile to break down cholesterol, controlling blood glucose levels and also storing vitamins A, D, E and K.

Therefore, when something goes awry with the liver, the consequences can highly affect the quality of life and in some instances, could be fatal. One of the most common diseases that affect the liver is hepatitis.

Generally, hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The condition could be self-limiting but it could also progress into scarring, cirrhosis or liver cancer. While the main cause of hepatitis is viruses, it can also be triggered by other factors such as infections, toxic substances and autoimmune diseases.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), scientists have identified five unique hepatitis viruses, identified by the letters A, B, C, D, and E. While all cause liver disease, they vary in important ways. In conjunction with World Hepatitis Day on July 28, let us delve deeper into the three main types of hepatitis viruses:

Hepatitis A

What is it: A highly contagious liver infection caused by the Hepatitis A virus. Although it may sound scary, Hepatitis A is rarely dangerous. In most cases, the symptoms are mild and last for a few weeks. It is more commonly present in areas with poor sanitation.

Transmission: The virus is present in the faeces of those infected and is typically transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food.

Treatment/prevention: Vaccines are highly recommended for all children older than the age of one. The vaccine kicks in and shields your body against the virus approximately four weeks after you receive the first dose. You should also wash your hands thoroughly and avoid consuming unsanitary food and drinks.

At-risk groups: Recreational drug users (via injection), those who may be exposed to the virus in a professional setting like laboratory workers, those with chronic liver disease, men who have sex with other men and travellers who just came back from places where the virus is common.

Hepatitis B

What is it: A potentially life-threatening liver infection caused by the Hepatitis B virus. It is a major global health problem, affecting nearly 260 million people around the world. Every year, it is estimated that 800,000 die from the disease alone.

Transmission: The virus is most commonly spread from mother to child during birth and delivery. It can spread by exposure to infected blood and bodily fluids, such as saliva, vaginal, and seminal fluids. It is also possible to get infected by sharing an infected person’s needles, razors, or toothbrushes.

Treatment/prevention: WHO recommends that all infants receive the Hepatitis B vaccine preferably within 24 hours after birth and this protection lasts at least 20 years. It is highly advisable to avoid having unprotected sex, sharing personal items such as razors, and getting tattoos or piercings from unsanitary parlours.

At-risk groups: Those in need of blood transplants, dialysis patients, drug users (injection), those with multiple sexual partners, healthcare workers and travellers.

Hepatitis C

What is it: A viral infection that attacks the liver with symptoms similar to Hepatitis B. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), an estimated 75 to 85 percent of people with acute hepatitis C will also develop chronic hepatitis C. It is also the major cause for liver cancer.

Transmission: It is mostly transmitted through exposure to contaminated blood or blood products. It can also spread during medical procedures and through injections of drug. It is least likely one would get infected through sexual transmission.

Treatment/prevention: There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. In a number of cases, the symptoms would clear on its own when your immune system kicks in. However, in some other, the disease develops into a chronic case and this is where treatment and antiviral medications come in.

At-risk groups: Drug users, recipients of infected blood products or invasive procedures in health-care facilities with inadequate infection control practices, children born to mothers infected with the virus and those with sexual partners who are Hepatitis C virus-infected.

Quick facts

It is possible to get more than one type of hepatitis at the same time

Neither Hepatitis B nor C spreads through coughing, sharing food with or hugging an infected person

Many people who have hepatitis do not become aware of it until the infection has advanced

You can take a five-minute self-assessment test to find out if you should be tested for viral hepatitis: http://www.worldhepatitisalliance.org/missing-millions-archive/#quiz

It is true that prevention is better than cure. Therefore, we must strive to keep an optimum level of health. However, it is also advisable to put another safeguard in place. Inquire further about AIA Cambodia’s protection plan by contacting them at 086 999 242. Its life insurance solution covers 26 conditions of critical illnesses and medical operations in Cambodia and overseas.

Sources: Medline Plus, Healthline, World Health Organisation, Khmer Times, WebMD, Institut Pasteur du Cambodge, Mayo Clinic, World Hepatitis Day, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Medical News Today.

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