When eating on the streets, in seemly unsanitary restaurants, or in the tourist areas, are you ever worried about getting infected with pathogens that trigger the liver disease hepatitis? In fact, hepatitis is a much common illness; in many countries and regions, hepatitis has become an epidemic. It’s very necessary to get a comprehensive understanding of this infectious disease so that you can know how to prevent yourself from getting infected and how to deal with or live with it if you are already infected.
Hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, is most commonly caused by viruses, although many other things also cause this condition (such as excessive alcohol consumption, certain drugs, toxic chemicals, autoimmune diseases, and other infections). Generally, there are 5 main viruses that trigger viruses: types A, B, C, D, and E. More specifically, these viruses include the hepatitis A virus (HAV), the hepatitis B virus (HBV), the hepatitis C virus (HCV), the hepatitis D virus (HDV), and the hepatitis C virus (HEV).
The 5 viruses differ in their geographic distribution, or national and regional prevalences. For example, the circulating levels of HAV is higher in developing countries than in developed countries; over 10% of HBV infections are found in Asia, while only 0.5% in the US and Northern Europe; HCV rates are high in Central and East Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East, but low in Asia-Pacific, Tropical Latin America, and North America; HDV and HEV are less common in developed countries, but some developed countries also reported increased rates. When traveling in countries with high viral hepatitis rates, it’s no bad thing to pay more attention to dietary hygiene.
HAV is found in the stool of people infected with the virus and is spread when the infected stool accidentally contaminates food or water. This transmission mode is the so-called fecal-oral route. Another hepatitis virus — HEV — is also spread via the fecal-oral route. Here are the common examples of how HAV spreads:
People with a strong immune system can clear HAV from their body quickly. After a single infection, an individual is immune for the rest of life. But people in unhygienic conditions may get severe HAV infection.
The transmission modes of HBV include exposure to infective blood, saliva, semen, vaginal fluids, and other body fluids. A person may get HBV infection through:
Exposure to infective blood is the most common transmission mode of HCV. This includes blood transfusions and organ transplants, sharing needles or other drug-injection equipment, sharing tattoo, piercing, or cutting equipment that is contaminated, and sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, razor blades and nail clippers. Sexual contact also spreads HCV but this mode of transmission is uncommon.
HDV only affects people with HBV infection, because HDV requires HBV for its replication. HDV makes infection with HBV worse. Patients co-infected with HDV and HBV tend to have a worse outcome. HDV is spread similar to HBV; that is, it is transmitted through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person.
Like HAV, HEV is also spread via the fecal-oral route. An uninfected person may get infected through consuming contaminated food or water.
Globally, HAV, HBV, HCV, HDV, and HEV separately influence about 114, 350, 143, 20, and 28 million people. In fact, viral hepatitis ranks in impact and seriousness as highly as HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria. However, viral hepatitis receives less funding, attention, and donations than each of those other three diseases. The morbidity and mortality of viral hepatitis emphasize the urgent need to raise awareness of, strengthen research on, and enhance prevention of this highly contagious disease. Research on viral hepatitis will help keep health away from hepatitis.
Thanks to research and development, there are vaccines available to prevent infection with several of the main 5 hepatitis viruses. Safe and effective vaccines to prevent HAV, HBV and HEV already exist. HBV vaccines also provide protection from HDV infection since HDV only attacks people with HBV infection. But there is no vaccine for HCV at this time.
HBV is the most common among the five main hepatitis viruses. Fortunately, there are already safe and effective vaccines to prevent HBV infection. The HBV vaccine series generally include more than one dose. It’s recommended that the first dose is given shortly after birth, and the rest are completed by 6-18 months.
Mother-to-baby transmission of HBV can also be prevented, if proper measures are taken such as maternal antiviral therapy during pregnancy, hepatitis B vaccine and hepatitis B immune globulin within 12 hours of birth. With proper medical care, most childhood infections can be thwarted.
Vaccines may be the most effective way to protect yourself from viral hepatitis. In addition to vaccination, there are things you can do that also reduce your risk of getting infected with hepatitis viruses. These things are especially important for people who have not get vaccinated and for prevention of HCV, which currently has no vaccine. To prevent infection with hepatitis viruses, you’d better:
In conclusion, viral hepatitis is a global health concern. The 5 main hepatitis viruses affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide. To avoid these infections and live a better life, getting vaccinated and having good health habits are important.