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Lafaine Grant, M.D. Answers Questions On Hepatitis

Lafaine Grant, M.D. Answers Questions On: Hepatitis

What is hepatitis and how is it contracted?

Hepatitis is actually a general term that simply means inflammation of the liver. Non-viral hepatitis can be caused by drugs, alcohol, and medical conditions like autoimmune diseases.

But in most cases, hepatitis is caused by a virus. That’s known as viral hepatitis, and the most common forms are hepatitis A, B, and C.

Hepatitis A is spread from contaminated food or water that has been tainted from a person who has the disease and then didn’t wash his or her hands after using the bathroom. That's what we call the fecal-oral spread of hepatitis A. Hepatitis A spreads particularly well in foods such as fruits and vegetables or anything that's undercooked. Most people will recover fully from hepatitis A; the virus doesn't cause long-term damage.

Hepatitis B and C, on the other hand, are spread through contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected person. They can both be spread through sexual contact. Most adults will recover from an acute hepatitis B infection, but hepatitis C will lead to a chronic infection in most.

How do you diagnose hepatitis, and what are some of the most common symptoms?

Viral hepatitis is diagnosed by a blood test in the appropriate setting. Non-viral hepatitis requires additional testing, such as imaging or even a liver biopsy.

There may not be any symptoms of hepatitis in the early stages of infection, so some people might not know they have it. Later on, patients might have nausea, abdominal pain, fatigue, or even become jaundiced, where their eyes turn yellow.

How can patients manage hepatitis?

Hepatitis A usually resolves on its own, so there is no specific treatment for that. We provide supportive care, and most patients will recover. We have effective medication for both hepatitis B and C. For the minority of adults who develop chronic hepatitis B infection, there’s effective medication to suppress the virus and help decrease the chance of complications. In the case of hepatitis C, the newer therapies available are so effective that the success rate surpasses 95 percent in some cases.

Are there ways to prevent hepatitis?

Viral hepatitis can be prevented. In hepatitis A, improved hygiene and frequent hand washing helps prevent fecal-oral spread. For hepatitis B and C, the general recommendation is to avoid sharing toothbrushes, razors, and anything that can transmit blood or body fluids. Using barrier methods during sexual contact can decrease the spread of hepatitis B.

Those at high risk should receive the hepatitis A and B vaccine, but there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

For non-viral hepatitis, we can use medications to suppress the immune system to help prevent infection in patients with immune disorders.