Hepatitis
(Viral Hepatitis, A, B, C, D, E, G)

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Viral hepatitis facts

  • Many illnesses and conditions can cause inflammation of the liver (hepatitis), but certain viruses cause about half of all hepatitis in people.
  • Viruses that primarily attack the liver are called hepatitis viruses. There are several types of hepatitis viruses including types A, B, C, D, E, and possibly G. Types A, B, and C are the most common.
  • Those at risk for viral hepatitis include workers in the health care profession, people with multiple sexual partners, intravenous drug abusers, and hemophiliacs. Blood transfusion is a rare cause of viral hepatitis.
  • All hepatitis viruses can cause acute hepatitis.
  • Viral hepatitis types B and C can cause chronic hepatitis.
  • Symptoms of acute viral hepatitis include fatigue, flu-like symptoms, dark urine, light-colored stools, fever, and jaundice; however, acute viral hepatitis may occur with minimal symptoms that go unrecognized. Rarely, acute viral hepatitis causes fulminant hepatic failure.
  • The symptoms of chronic viral hepatitis often are mild and nonspecific, and the diagnosis of chronic hepatitis often is delayed.
  • Chronic viral hepatitis often requires treatment in order to prevent progressive liver damage, cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer.
  • Hepatitis infections can be prevented by avoiding exposure to viruses, injectable immunoglobulins or vaccines.

Viral hepatitis definition and overview

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Many illnesses and conditions can cause inflammation of the liver, for example, drugs, alcohol, chemicals, and autoimmune diseases. Many viruses, for example, the virus of mononucleosis and the cytomegalovirus can inflame the liver. Most viruses, however, do not attack primarily the liver; the liver is just one of several organs that the viruses affect. When doctors speak of viral hepatitis, they are using the definition that means hepatitis caused by a few specific viruses that primarily attack the liver and are responsible for about half of all human hepatitis. There are several hepatitis viruses; they have been named types A, B, C, D, E, F (not confirmed), and G. As our knowledge of hepatitis viruses grows, it is likely that this alphabetical list will become longer. The most common hepatitis viruses are types A, B, and C. Reference to the hepatitis viruses often occurs in an abbreviated form. (For example, HAV, HBV, HCV represent hepatitis viruses A, B, and C, respectively.)

Hepatitis viruses replicate (multiply) in the liver cells. Newly-produced viruses are released into the blood stream where they can be spread to other organs or to other persons exposed to the infected blood.

  1. The liver helps purify the blood by changing harmful chemicals into harmless ones. The source of these chemicals can be external, such as medications or alcohol, or internal, such as ammonia or bilirubin. Typically, these harmful chemicals are broken down into smaller chemicals or attached to other chemicals that then are eliminated from the body in the urine or stool.
  2. The liver produces many important substances, especially proteins that are necessary for good health. For example, it produces albumin, the protein building block of the body, as well as the proteins that cause blood to clot properly.
  3. The liver stores many sugars, fats and vitamins until they are needed elsewhere in the body.
  4. The liver builds smaller chemicals into larger, more complicated chemicals that are needed elsewhere in the body. An example of this type of function is the manufacture of cholesterol.

When the liver is inflamed, it does not perform these functions well, which brings about many of the symptoms, signs, and problems associated with any type of hepatitis. Each viral type has both articles and books describing the details of infection with that specific virus. This article is designed to give the reader an overview of the predominant viruses that causes viral hepatitis and should help the reader choose the subject(s) for more in depth information.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/20/2012

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Viral Hepatitis is Preventable with Vaccinations

Do You Need Vaccinations Before Traveling Abroad?

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR

Travelers to other countries often face health issues they wouldn't ordinarily experience at home. To minimize your risks of becoming seriously ill when traveling abroad, you should find out in advance whether any specific immunizations may be recommended for travel to the region of the world you'll be visiting. It's also a good time to review your own immunization history.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), it's best to schedule a visit to your doctor or travel medicineclinic 4-6 weeks before an international trip. Since your body needs time to build up immunity after receiving a vaccine and many vaccines are given in a series over time, getting an early start on your immunizations is the best way to protect yourself. Even if you are making a last-minute trip or plan to leave in less than four weeks, you should still check with your doctor to see if any vaccines or preventive medications might be recommended.

The CDC divides travel vaccinations into three categories: routine, recommended, and required. The only vaccine classified as "required" by International Health Regulations is the yellow fever vaccinationfor travel to certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America.

"Routine" vaccinations are those that are normally administered, usually during childhood, in the United States. These include immunizations against:

  • diphtheria,
  • tetanus,
  • pertussis,
  • measles,
  • mumps,
  • rubella,
  • varicella,
  • poliomyelitis,
  • hepatitis B,
  • hepatitis A,
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b,
  • rotavirus,
  • meningococcus,
  • human papillomavirus, and
  • pneumococcus.

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