Viral Hepatitis: Know your ABCs (Part 1)

Prime takes you through viral hepatitis and how you can protect yourself and loved ones from this ‘silent killer’.

4000 people die a day from viral hepatitis and every year, 1.4 million people worldwide would have died from two forms of the disease (Hepatitis B or C), a number which even surpasses that of the AIDS virus!

Many people who have been infected often do not show any symptoms of the disease until much later, when the damage to the liver has moved on to an advanced stage, hence it is also dubbed the ‘silent killer’. Viral hepatitis is entirely preventable and the first step to fighting this ‘silent killer’ is greater awareness and understanding of this disease.

What is the role of our liver?

  • Largest gland in our body
  • Detoxifies the blood to keep the body free of toxins and other harmful substances
  • Blood from the digestive tract flows into the liver where it is ‘cleaned’; the liver will detoxify chemicals and metabolise drugs that have entered the blood stream before it is circulated back to the rest of the body

What is viral hepatitis?

  • Inflammation (swelling) of the liver
  • Alcohol abuse and drug use can be causes of liver inflammation
  • Liver tissues may become hardened over time (cirrhosis) and will not be able to carry out their proper function.

Acute vs chronic viral hepatitis

Acute viral hepatitis is a short-term infection (usually lasts a few months) and it occurs when a person is first infected with the virus. Hepatitis A (“Viral Hepatitis: Know your ABCs! Part 2”) causes acute hepatitis infection.

Chronic viral hepatitis is a long-term infection that can last throughout life. Hepatitis B and C can cause acute and chronic infections. These chronic infections may lead to liver cirrhosis, liver failure and even liver cancer.

Symptoms of viral hepatitis

  • Jaundice (skin and whites of the eyes turn yellow)
  • Fever and fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark-coloured urine and clay-coloured stools

Guard your liver against hepatitis!

Preventing hepatitis A

  • Wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet and especially before handling any food and drinks for consumption.
  • Avoid eating raw shellfish. Wash fruit and vegetables (“5 Ways to Protect Your Liver”) before consumption.
  • When travelling overseas, do not drink directly from the tap. It is safer to drink bottled water.
  • Get a hepatitis A vaccination before travelling.

Preventing hepatitis B

  • Get vaccinated! Visit your GP to get screened for hepatitis B and get a vaccination if you are not protected against the disease.
  • Avoid casual and unprotected sex.
  • Do not share objects that may break the skin such as toothbrushes, razors or nail clippers.
  • If you want to get body piercings, tattoos and acupuncture, make sure you visit a licensed facility where sterilised instruments are used.

Preventing hepatitis C

  • Avoid sharing objects such as toothbrushes, razors and nail clippers which have a high risk of breaking the skin.
  • Ensure that sterilised instruments are used when you get a body piercing, tattoo or acupuncture treatments.
  • Avoid casual and unprotected sex
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