What is viral hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an infection of the liver caused by one of several viruses, the most common of which are named hepatitis A, B, and C. Hepatitis A is spread mainly through contaminated food and water, whereas hepatitis B is transmitted by sexual contact and use of contaminated needles. The route of transmission of hepatitis C is not completely clear but is believed to be similar to that of hepatitis B.
What are the risk factors for viral hepatitis?
You can avoid hepatitis A by practicing good hygiene and using the conventional preventive treatment, known as immune globulins, while traveling in areas where the disease is common. Hepatitis B can be prevented by immunization and the same precautions taken against HIV infection. HIV precautions are believed to decrease the transmission of hepatitis C as well.
Diagnosis & Treatment Options
What are the symptoms of viral hepatitis?
It’s possible you might have hepatitis and not realize it at first. Sometimes there aren’t any symptoms. Or you might not get the right diagnosis because the disease shares some of the same signs as the flu.
The most common symptoms of hepatitis are:
- Loss of appetite.
- Mild fever.
- Muscle or joint aches.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Pain in your belly.
Symptoms also vary by type of hepatitis:
- Hepatitis A infection symptoms may include fever, malaise, anorexia, nausea, abdominal pain, dark urine, and jaundice. The likelihood of having symptoms is age-dependent. Children less than 6 years of age are asymptomatic in 70 percent of cases and if symptomatic, do not typically present with jaundice. Jaundice occurs in more than 70 percent of older children and adults. Symptoms usually resolve within eight weeks of onset, although 10 to 15 percent of affected individuals may have persistent symptoms for up to six months.
- Hepatitis B may be symptomatic or asymptomatic. If symptoms occur, they will typically manifest two to three months following exposure. In infants, children under 5 years of age, and immunosuppressed adults, acute infection is rarely symptomatic; symptoms will develop in 30 to 50 percent of immunocompetent adults and children over the age of 5 years. Signs and symptoms of acute infection include a gradual, subtle onset of fatigue, anorexia, abdominal discomfort, nausea, and vomiting. Low grade fever, arthralgia, rash, lymphadenopathy, and diarrhea may be present. One to two weeks after symptom onset patients may develop jaundice, dark urine, light colored stool, hepatomegaly, and splenomegaly. The jaundice disappears and the illness resolves within four to 12 weeks.
- Hepatitis C is asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, and most cases of acute infection are not diagnosed. When symptoms do occur they usually appear within seven to eight weeks after exposure to hepatitis C virus, and last two to 12 weeks. The most common symptoms are jaundice, malaise, and nausea. Other symptoms may include fatigue, lethargy, anorexia, right upper quadrant pain, mild hepatosplenomegaly, maculopapular rash, and arthralgia.
How is viral hepatitis diagnosed?
A confirmed hepatitis case is confirmed via lab work.
How is viral hepatitis treated?
Treatment of hepatitis varies depending on diagnosis.
- Treatment of hepatitis C virus is aimed at eradicating infection in order to prevent the complications of chronic disease.
- Hepatitis B is usually self-limited and therapy is primarily supportive. More than 95 percent of immunocompetent adults will clear the infection spontaneously.
- Therapy for hepatitis A is supportive. No diet or activity restrictions are necessary. Hospitalization is mandatory for patients with signs or symptoms of acute liver failure and may be necessary for intravenous rehydration.
Preparing for Care
When should I contact my healthcare provider?
See your healthcare provider if you have any signs or symptoms of viral hepatitis. If you have symptoms of viral hepatitis, your healthcare provider may perform a blood test to check for the presence of an antibody. If you have hepatitis, more blood samples may be necessary later to check for complications and determine if the infection has progressed to a chronic disease.