Hepatitis – the facts from A to E

Deutsche Welle
4 Min Read

Hepatitis attacks the liver and in the worst case can result in cirrhosis or liver carcinoma. But not all forms of Hepatitis are alike.
Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A can result in an inflammation of the liver, but usually does not develop into a chronic illness. In some cases, patients will recover even without treatment. The virus is often contracted through contact with contaminated water or food, as well as through contact with feces, or a contact-infection between humans.

The virus is spread worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there are about 1.4 million new infections every year. The most affected populations are in developing countries, which have insufficient hygiene, such as a lack of sanitation and water purification. Travelers are also at risk of contracting a form of “travel-hepatitis.” But the good news is there is a vaccination against Hepatitis A.

Hepatitis B

You can protect yourself with a vaccine against this very dangerous form of Hepatitis. Hepatitis B can be life threatening. About 240 million people worldwide suffer from chronic Hepatitis B. Every year an estimated 600,000 people die from it.

The virus is transmitted through the blood or other body fluids from an infected person. The disease usually results in a chronic inflammation of the liver – often leading to cirrhosis or liver carcinoma.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C can be as deadly as Hepatitis B. However, sometimes it takes a milder course, resulting in only an acute infection. But it is more dangerous than Hepatitis B, because there is no vaccination against it – yet. Many people carry the Hepatitis C virus without knowing it. It is transmitted mostly through the blood.

When the virus was discovered in 1988, scientists called it the “Non-A-Non-B-Virus”. At the time, it was impossible to test blood donations for the virus. This led to a large number of infections through blood transfusions. Today, the most common path of infection is through syringes – for instance, among drug users who share needles. About 350,000 people die from Hepatitis C every year.

Recent tests to treat Hepatitis C with antiviral drugs have been promising. In several cases, patients who received long-term treatment showed a significant improvement in their condition.

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D can develop in people carrying Hepatitis B. The virus needs a surface protein of the more common Hepatitis B to multiply. But if you are vaccinated against Hepatitis B, you automatically develop immunity against Hepatitis D.

Hepatitis E

Hepatitis E is most common in South East Asia and often occurs during the monsoon season or freak flooding, due to fecal contamination of drinking water. The illness can be more severe than Hepatitis A and – depending on the treatment – can be fatal. Woman during pregnancy are especially at risk. China approved the first vaccine against Hepatitis E in 2012.

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