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Most people have some knowledge of common chronic diseases like diabetes and their symptoms, consequences, and preventive methods. But apart from these, there’s another silent killer that many only know by name: viral hepatitis.

Here’s a crash course on this disease that’s more widespread than you may think.

1. There are 5 types of hepatitis: A, B, C, D, and E

Though symptoms are similar across all types of hepatitis, they come in varying degrees of severity. While hepatitis, in general, refers to the inflammation of the liver, each type of hepatitis is transmitted differently, and caused by different strains of the virus. Out of these, hepatitis C is the most common, though in South East Asia, hepatitis B is most prevalent.

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2. Both babies and adults can be vaccinated against hepatitis

Unfortunately, vaccines are only available for types A and B of hepatitis, but some protection is better than none. Ideally, infants should get their first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine at birth, and start getting the hepatitis A vaccine right after they turn a year old.

Don’t fret if you weren’t vaccinated as a baby – you can still get your shots as an adult if you haven’t been infected.

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3. Viral hepatitis is one of the leading causes of liver cancer cases and death

Those with chronic hepatitis, or long-term hepatitis, are more susceptible to liver cancer. Hepatitis can lead to liver cirrhosis, which is the forming of scar tissue in the liver. The body then overcompensates to produce more good liver cells to replace the scarring, but this overproduction could eventually result in cancer over time.

Together, hepatitis B and C cause 80% of liver cancer cases in the world and claim 1.34 million lives per year.

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4. Hepatitis cannot be spread through forms of casual contact such as shaking hands

It’s completely safe to hug a person who has hepatitis. The disease also cannot be transmitted through breast milk, so mothers can feed their babies without worry.

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5. Practicing safe sex can prevent hepatitis B from spreading

Among all types of the disease, hepatitis B is most easily spread via sexual activity, through semen, vaginal fluid, blood, and urine. Whether you’re engaging in oral, vaginal, or anal sex, it’s important to be well-protected.

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6. It’s possible for patients to manage their condition and prevent viral hepatitis from spreading

If you’re an infected party, here’s what you can do to lessen the gravity of your illness and protect your loved ones from the disease:

Lifestyle tips to help patients live with hepatitis

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7. Signs of hepatitis can come in the most unnoticeable of forms

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From mere fatigue to fevers, symptoms of hepatitis include the following:

  • Jaundice
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea/vomiting

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  • Diarrhea/stomach pain
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Pale bowel movements
  • Low-grade fever
  • Muscle aches/tiredness

If you’ve been experiencing one or more of these a little too often, it would be good to get yourself checked, just in case.

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8. 70-80% of people with hepatitis C do not show any symptoms

Those who have been infected with acute hepatitis – that is, hepatitis that lasts six months or less – often go by without even displaying any symptoms of the illness. Even if that acute hepatitis evolves into chronic hepatitis, symptoms are long drawn out and it’s difficult to notice them till the later stages of the disease when things start to get more serious.

Do go for routine checkups every year or so to have the peace of mind of being disease-free.

 

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9. Getting a piercing or tattoo can increase the risk of hepatitis B and C

 

Hepatitis B and C are spread when a person’s infected blood, or items with traces of it, comes into contact with another person.

If you plan on getting inked, make sure you engage a reputable tattooist who uses new sterilized needles on each customer; a moment’s folly with a contaminated needle can lead to a lifetime of suffering.

The same goes for piercings. Needles and piercing guns need to be sterilized, and you should purchase an anti-bacterial solution to use on the fresh piercing after the procedure and during the healing process.

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10. Hepatitis A can be spread through contaminated food or water

Hepatitis A spreads when a person ingests fecal matter from an infected person. You’d be surprised – even objects outside the bathroom can have minuscule traces of stool on them. Do ensure good hygiene wherever you are, and disinfect hands after using the toilet and before eating.

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Be especially careful when consuming raw or undercooked shellfish as well – they could’ve been “marinating” in contaminated waters before reaching your table.

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Preventing and living with viral hepatitis

Hepatitis is a disease not to be underestimated — while it comes with symptoms not easily observed, it’s very easily spread and has consequences that can be just as deadly as that of other chronic diseases.

Share these facts with your loved ones to keep them in the know and protect them from this deadly illness.

 

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Sources:  CDC – Hepfi – WHO – ihmeuw