Health & Safety

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Hepatitis Awareness

16 January 2010

Hepatitis means "liver inflammation". Several kinds of Hepatitis virus can infect the liver, but the most common are the Hepatitis A, B and C viruses.

vaccination syringe

The Department of Health estimates that there are around 180,000 people chronically infected with Hepatitis B in the UK. Various estimates suggest that up to 400,000 people are infected with hepatitis C in the UK but only around 80,000 have been diagnosed and eight out of ten are unaware they have it. This is because it can take years, even decades, for symptoms to appear.

A simple blood test will confirm if an individual is infected with a Hepatitis virus.

  • 500 million people worldwide are currently infected with Hepatitis B or C.
  • 1 in 12 people are infected with either chronic viral hepatitis B or C globally, this is over ten times the number infected with HIV/AIDS.
  • Between them, hepatitis B and C kill 1.5 million people a year.
  • One in every three people on the planet has been exposed to either or both Hepatitis B or C viruses.
  • Most of the 500 million infected do not know.

Hepatitis types

The different types of Hepatitis are caused by different viruses that often cause similar symptoms and can be passed on in similar ways. But the viruses are different from each other and having had one (or being vaccinated against one) does not protect individuals from the others.

  • Hepatitis A is quite rare in the UK, the majority of people from the UK who become infected with Hepatitis A contract it when abroad. Symptoms may include: flu-like symptoms, fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue, loss of appetite and weight loss, abdominal pain, itchy skin and jaundice. Most patients make a full recovery from Hepatitis A.
  • Hepatitis B is very common worldwide. It is spread through the exchange of blood, body fluids, unprotected sex, un-sterilised needles, sharing contaminated needles for drug use, needle-stick injury, or contaminated blood products, contaminated needles for tattooing, body piercing or acupuncture, sharing razors or toothbrushes etc, blood transfusion or medical treatment (in countries where blood screening is not routine or where medical equipment is not sterilised adequately). One-third of infections produce no symptoms, in another third mild flu-like symptoms occur with weakness, aches, headache, fever, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, jaundice, nausea and vomiting. In the final third of cases the infection can cause severe illness that lasts many months with abdominal pain, diarrhoea and jaundice. The majority of people with Hepatitis B do not need specific treatment other than rest and they eventually make a full recovery.
  • Hepatitis C symptoms can be easily confused with less serious illnesses. The signs of liver damage may not occur for a couple of decades and by the time the disease becomes apparent liver damage can be considerable and even irreversible. It was spread by blood transfusions before September 1992, when screening of all blood used in the UK for hepatitis C was brought in. It is spread by sharing contaminated needles for drug use, needle-stick injury, or contaminated blood products, contaminated needles for tattooing, body piercing or acupuncture, sharing razors or toothbrushes etc, blood transfusion or medical treatment (in countries where blood screening is not routine or where medical equipment is not sterilised adequately). Although there is no vaccine to protect against infection, there is effective treatment available. Symptoms include: fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite, joint pains, nausea, diarrhoea, flu-like symptoms, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, alcohol intolerance and pain in the liver area.
  • Hepatitis D is rare in the UK and is only present in people infected with Hepatitis B. Co-infection with Hepatitis B and D results in more severe complications compared to infection with Hepatitis B alone. These complications include a greater likelihood of experiencing liver failure.
  • Hepatitis E causes only acute infection and is a "self-limiting" disease, in that it usually goes away by itself and the patient recovers. However, during the duration of the infection, (usually several weeks), the disease severely impairs a person's ability to work and care for themselves. Hepatitis E occasionally develops into an acute severe liver disease.
  • Hepatitis F - delisted as a cause for infectious Hepatitis.
  • Hepatitis G - Rare and mainly individuals infected with HIV are commonly co-infected with this virus.
  • Autoimmune Hepatitis is a very rare cause of chronic Hepatitis. In Autoimmune Hepatitis white blood cells attack your liver causing chronic inflammation and damage. This can then lead to more serious problems such as liver failure.

Vaccinations are available for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B (singly or combined), and also as a combination of Hepatitis A and Typhoid.

Always consult your own GP if you are in any way concerned about your health.