Hepatitis means liver inflammation. Viral hepatitis means that a person has liver inflammation due to a virus. Viral infection of the liver makes the liver swell up and stop working well. The liver is an important organ. It helps your body with these functions:
Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver that is caused by the hepatitis C virus, or HCV.Between 15 to 40 percent of people who get hepatitis C are able to fight off the virus during the early, or acute, stage, usually within six months. Between 60 and 85 percent of patients cannot get rid of the virus and develop a long-term, or chronic, hepatitis C infection. People with chronic hepatitis C will have the disease all their lives unless they are successfully treated with antiviral medicines.
The symptoms of acute hepatitis B infection develop within 1-6 months of when you first become infected with the virus, and include feeling sick, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever and feeling generally unwell. Some people develop jaundice (Peelia). This is due to build-up of bilirubin, which is made in the liver and spills into the blood in some liver conditions. Your urine also becomes dark yellow, your stools may go pale, and you tend to itch.
The hepatitis B virus can be passed to an infant during childbirth or shortly thereafter if the mother is infected.
The risk of becoming chronically infected depends on your age at the time of infection. Most newborns and about 50% of children infected with hepatitis B develop chronic hepatitis. Only a few adults infected with HBV develop the chronic condition.Most of the damage from the hepatitis B virus is due to the body’s response to the infection. When the body’s immune system detects the infection, it sends out special cells to fight it off. However, these disease-fighting cells can lead to liver inflammation.
Hepatitis D can only be acquired if the person has an active infection of hepatitis B. The virus cannot reproduce without the presence of the virus causing hepatitis B. If you have chronic hepatitis B and your symptoms suddenly worsen, your doctor should check for hepatitis D. The virus is spread through contact with infected blood and contaminated needles. You can also get the disease through sexual contact with someone who is infected.
The good news is that there is a safe and effective vaccine against the virus. In New Zealand this is on the immunisation schedule for infants and children up to sixteen years, free of charge through general practitioners. The course of vaccine for an infant consists of three doses scheduled for six weeks, three months and five months of age. Mothers who are carriers are identified by a blood test in pregnancy and their babies are offered protection by an injection of immune globulin at birth followed by a course of vaccine.
Immunisation at any age (from babies to old age) is very effective at protecting people against infection. If it is known (by a blood test) that a pregnant woman is a chronic carrier of hepatitis B, a baby can be immunised (given a vaccine) at birth to protect it from hepatitis B infection. The vaccine does not contain live virus, but uses a protein (called surface antigen) from the virus, so you cannot catch hepatitis from the vaccine.