Hepatitis: Transmission, symptoms and prevention

Hepatitis is an inflammatory (swelling) disease of the liver mainly caused by viral infection and excessive alcohol intake. 

Viral hepatitis which is our focus here results from infection with any of the following viruses: Hepatitis A, B, C. D or E virus.

Modes of Transmission

Hepatitis A and E are contracted when  the viruses are taken in contaminated food or water while Hepatitis D infects a person with untreated Hepatitis B. 

Hepatitis B and C are transmitted through infected blood, body tissue, and other body fluids such as semen.

Modes of Transmission

  • Unprotected sex
  • Transfusion of infected blood and blood products,
  • Injections during surgery and dental procedures
  • Injection Drug Use (IDU) 
  • Patient care by surgeons and dentists, and other health practitioners who come in contact with blood and body fluids.
  • Childbirth, and from an  infected family member to infants. 

In Nigeria some specific local practices have been tied to Hepatitis B and C infections and a few of them include

  • Local  circumcision, 
  • Drawing tribal marks
  • Body piercing
  • Child deliveries especially with infected mothers 
  • Blood oaths 
  • Local hair cutting
  • Local manicure/pedicure. 

Persons most at risk of contracting Hepatitis B and C are commercial sex workers, men having sex with men, medical practitioners, HIV patients, prisoners, persons injecting drugs, persons who have multiple sex partners. 

Possible Complications

Left untreated, Hepatitis B and C infections can become very severe and cause death of liver cells (cirrhosis), liver failure, and liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma). 

Preventive Measures

Hepatitis A  vaccination is available and quite effective. 

Both Hepatitis A and E can aslo be prevented by

  • Washing hands after using the restroom. 
  • Thorough washing of food, fruits, and vegetables before consumption 
  • Washing hands  before eating. 

Prevention of Hepatitis B, C & D. 

The best prevention for Hepatitis B and D is with  taking the Hepatitis B vaccines for newborns and adults. There is currently no vaccine for Hepatitis C. 

Other preventive measures for Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C include:

  • Safe injection practices in health centers
  • Avoiding contact with unscreened blood and blood products
  • Screening of donor before use for patients.
  • Practicing safe sex 

Signs and Symptoms

Signs of chronic Hepatitis B and C infections take long to appear. Some of the symptoms  include:

  • Abdominal pain,
  • Dark urine,
  • Joint pain,
  • Jaundice (yellow color in skin or eyes), 
  • Fatigue. 

Treatment

Drugs are available for treating chronic hepatitis B and for cure of hepatitis C. Treatment for hepatitis B is lifelong as it has no cure yet. 

All drugs for the treatment of viral hepatitis are to be procured following a positive diagnosis at an approved health facility and with prescription from a certified physician.

In general, the most affordable remedy remains prevention.

Early diagnosis and proper treatment will prevent chronic disease, liver damage and other losses including death. 

Emmanel Edeh

Pharmacist in Training at the University of Port Harcourt