Short-term inflammation of the liver known as acute hepatitis, affects about 350,000 people every year in the US. The condition has various causes and has a sudden onset. Most people with acute hepatitis recover within a month or two. However, in some cases inflammation of the liver persists for many months or even years or progresses to liver failure.
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What are the causes?
Worldwide, the most common cause of acute hepatitis is infection with any one of the several types of hepatitis viruses. until the late 1980s, there were only two known hepatitis viruses, hepatitis a and b. Additional hepatitis viruses have now been identified, including hepatitis c, d and e. Other hepatitis viruses are almost certainly yet to be discovered. the known viruses can all cause acute hepatitis, and they have many features in common, although the way in which they are transmitted and their long-term effects may differ. Infection with some types of bacteria, other non-hepatitis viruses, and some parasites can also lead to acute hepatitis. In addition, the condition may be caused by noninfectious agents, such as some drugs and toxins, including alcohol.
Hepatitis a virus:
The hepatitis a virus is the most common cause of acute viral hepatitis in the us. often, the virus does not produce symptoms, or symptoms are so mild that the infection passes unrecognized. The hepatitis a virus can be detected in the urine and feces of infected people, and it can be transmitted to other people in contaminated food or water.
Hepatitis b virus:
It is estimated that each year about 150,000 people become infected with the hepatitis b virus in the US. The virus is spread by contact with an infected personâ€™s body fluids. for example, the virus can be spread by sexual intercourse or by sharing contaminated needles used for taking drugs intravenously. In developing countries, the infection is most commonly transmitted from mother to baby at birth. Before blood banks routinely screened blood for the virus, blood transfusions used to be a source of hepatitis b infection, and many people with hemophilia contracted hepatitis. All blood used for transfusions is now screened for the hepatitis b virus.
Hepatitis c virus:
About 3 percent of people worldwide are infected with the hepatitis c virus each year. The virus is most commonly transmitted by blood, often by sharing contaminated needles used for taking drugs intravenously. All blood used for transfusions in the us is now screened for the hepatitis c virus. it is also spread by sexual intercourse.
Hepatitis d and e viruses:
Infection with hepatitis d occurs only in people. it is spread by contact with infected body fluids. The hepatitis e virus is a rare cause of hepatitis in the developed world. the virus is excreted in the feces of infected people and is spread in much the same way as the hepatitis a virus.
Other infectious causes:
Acute hepatitis may also be caused by other viral infections, such as cytomegalovirus infection, and the epstein-barr virus, the cause of infectious mononucleosis. some bacterial infections, such as leptospirosis and legionnaires disease, can cause hepatitis. Parasitic infections that may also result in acute hepatitis include infection with plasmodium, the cause of malaria.
In developed countries, excessive alcohol consumption is one of the most common causes of acute hepatitis. the condition can also be caused by other toxins, such as those found in poisonous fungi. acute hepatitis can also be caused by certain drugs, such as some anticonvulsants, the anesthetic gas halothane and an overdose of acetaminophen. Occasionally, acute hepatitis occurs in pregnancy, although the cause not fully understood.
What are the symptoms?
Some people infected with a hepatitis virus have no symptoms, or symptoms are so mild they are not noticed. In other cases, the disorder may be life-threatening. If hepatitis is due to a viral infection, the time from infection to the appearance of symptoms can vary from up to 6 weeks for hepatitis a to 6 months for hepatitis b. Some people who have no symptoms may become carriers of the virus. if symptoms do develop, they may initially include:
In some cases, several days after the initial symptoms develop, the whites of the eyes and the skin take on a yellow tinge, a condition known as jaundice. Often, the initial symptoms improve once jaundice appears. At this time, the feces may become paler than usual, and widespread itching may be present. acute hepatitis caused by the hepatitis b virus may also cause joint pains.
Severe acute hepatitis may result in liver failure, causing mental confusion, seizures and sometimes coma. Liver failure is relatively common following an overdose with the analgesic acetaminophen, but it is less common with some types of hepatitis, such as those due to the hepatitis a virus.
How is it diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects that you have hepatitis, he or she may arrange for you to have blood tests to evaluate your liver function and to look for possible causes of the hepatitis, blood tests will probably be repeated in order to help monitor your recovery. If the diagnosis is unclear, you may also undergo ultrasound scanning and in some cases a liver biopsy, in which a small piece of liver is removed and examined under a microscope.
What is the treatment?
There is no specific treatment for most case of acute hepatitis, and people are usually advised to rest. Consult your doctor before taking any medicines, such as analgesics, because there is a risk of side effects. If you have viral hepatitis, you will need to take precautions to prevent the spread of the disease, including practicing safe sex.
You should avoid drinking alcohol during the illness and for a minimum of 3 months after you have recovered. However, if the cause was alcohol-related, you will be advised to give up drinking alcohol permanently.
What is the prognosis?
Most people with acute hepatitis feel better after 4-6 weeks and recover by 3 months. however, for some people with hepatitis c, recovery is followed by a series of relapses over several months. about 3 in 4 people with hepatitis c and 1 in 20 with hepatitis b and d develop chronic hepatitis. People with acute hepatitis caused by an infection other than the hepatitis viruses usually recover completely once the infection clears up. recovery from acute hepatitis due to excessive alcohol consumption, drugs or other toxins depends on the extent of the liver damage. the substance causing the acute hepatitis must be avoided in the future.
In the rare cases in which hepatitis progresses to liver failure, a liver transplant may be necessary.
Can it be prevented?
Infection with hepatitis a and e may be prevented by good personal hygiene. The risk of infection with hepatitis b, c and d can be reduced by practicing safe sex and by not sharing needles or other objects that might be contaminated with body fluids infected with the virus. Infection with one hepatitis virus provides future immunity against that virus. Infection with one hepatitis virus provides future immunity against that virus but not against any of the other types of hepatitis virus.
In the US, all babies routinely receive hepatitis b from birth. Immunizations that protect people against hepatitis a are also given to those at risk of contracting the infection, such as travelers.
To avoid the transmission of hepatitis through blood transfusions, blood banks routinely screen all blood for the hepatitis b and hepatitis c viruses.
Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.