Hepatitis is a disease which causes inflammation of the liver, and sometimes death. There are 4 forms of hepatitis (A, B, C and D), but only the sexually transmitted ones (Hepatitis A and B) will be discussed here.
Hepatitis A is caused by the Hepatitis A Virus [HAV] and is highly contagious.
It is transmitted by:
- fecal-oral contact
Hepatitis B is caused by the Hepatitis B Virus [HBV].
It is found in:
- fecal matter
There are up to 200,000 infections reported per year and up to 33% of Americans have evidence of some past infection (immunity).
Hepatitis A is the most common type of Hepatitis reported in the United States with at least 1.4 million people worldwide being infected.
Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver and is spread by:
- fecal-oral route through close person-to-person contact
- ingestion of contaminated food or water
History of the Hepatitis B virus
- Dr. Blumberg, when studying hemophilia in 1965, found an antibody in two patients which reacted against an antigen from an Australian Aborigine. Subsequent study found the Australian antigen to be the Hepatitis B surface antigen. Dr. Blumberg was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery.
Biology of the Hepatitis B virus
- The Hepatitis B Virus is a complex structure which is classified as a hepadnavirus. It is a partially double stranded DNA virus about 42 nm in size (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter so this is very small!). The DNA core is surrounded by a lipoprotein coat or envelope. The surface of the coating contains the antigen HBsAg to which people who are vaccinated or have had the disease develop antibodies.
- HBsAg is used by the virus to bind to a host cell.When the virus particle, called a virion, invades a new host, it travels through the body to the liver, where it binds to a receptor on the surface of a liver cell. The mechanism of HBsAg binding to a specific receptor to enter cells has not been established yet. Viral DNA in the form of nucleocapsids enter the cell and reach the nucleus, where the viral genome is delivered and the cell becomes a virus factory.
- The actions of the virus on the cellular process are complex but the result is a growing and spreading infection that can be lethal if not diagnosed and treated. Look here more on how viruses cause disease.
Hepatitis A Symptoms
Hepatitis A symptoms include:
- aches and pains
- a general feeling of not being well
- dark urine
- intermittent nausea and possibly vomiting
- jaundice, which can make the sclera (whites) of the eyes a yellowish color
- loss of appetite
- pale feces
Adults usually experience more symptoms than children.
- Average time 28 days for Hepatitis A virus
- From 2 weeks to 6 months after being infected
Hepatitis B Symptoms
- From 2 weeks to 6 months after viral entry to the liver, during which time a person is extremely contagious
- Symptoms disappear over 6-12 months until complete recovery
Hepatitis B symptoms are similar to Hepatitis A but can also include:
- muscle/joint aches
- pain in the abdomen
However, the virus may continue its silent attack on the liver which over a period of years can lead to:
Scarring of the liver which slows the blood flow through the liver, causing increased pressure in the vein that transports blood from the stomach and the intestines to the liver.
Esophageal varices can develop in the stomach and esophagus and these large veins can break without warning, causing a person to vomit blood or have black, tarry stools.
Over 5,000 persons die from chronic liver disease caused by the Hepatitis B Virus infection each year including:
- liver cancer
- liver cell damage
- liver failure
- scarring of the liver
Transmission of Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is transmitted through:
- contact with a household member or sex partner with Hepatitis A
- contaminated food/water
- diaper changing tables (if not cleaned properly)
- eating raw or partially cooked contaminated shellfish
- infected food handlers by not washing hands with soap and water
- oral-fecal contact by touching contaminated items, food etc.
Transmission of Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is transmitted through:
- contact with infected blood from open wound
- blood sucking arthropods (mainly in the tropics).
- blood transfusions
- contaminated drinking water or ice
- raw or uncooked shellfish (oysters, clams or mussels)
- seminal fluid
- uncooked fruits or vegetables grown with or washed in contaminated water
- vaginal secretions
- breakdowns in sanitary conditions
- floods and other natural disasters
- any sexual and intimate contact
- infected mother to newborn
- infected workers toilet training children in day-care centers
- needle sharing
- sexual practices involving the use of feces or urine
- sharing a toothbrush
- tattoo/body piercing instruments
Hepatitis A Diagnosis
In order to diagnose Hepatitis A the appropriate blood test is required
- IgM antHAV
Hepatitis B Diagnosis
Because of the complexity and the antigenic differences of the virus, there are a number of tests available for Hepatitis B.
There are three standard blood tests:
- HBsAg – presence of the virus
- HBcAg – not detected in blood
- HBeAg – correlates with the viral replication and infectivity
Anti-HBs- antibodies to the surface (antibody to HbsAg)
- A positive test means you are immune to Hepatitis B, either because you have had the disease or you have been vaccinated.
- Antibodies to the core can be either IgM (acute) or IgG (chronic)
- Antibodies to ‘e’ indicating low infection rate and probable recovery
- Indicates virus presence and activity
- Determines the presence of HBV DNA
HBsAgin liver cells (Orcein stain, Shakata cells)
HBsAg inside hepatocytes
Standard Blood Tests
HBsAG(Hepatitis B surface antigen)
- Positive means current infection.
Anti-HBc (antibody to Hepatitis B core antigen)
- Positive means current infection.
Although uncommon, a number of conditions associated with Hepatitis B antigen/antibody complexes have been found.
- appears early
- usually involves medium and small arteries
- liver disease is usually mild
- occurs largely in children
- usually occurs in older persons
Essential Mixed Cryoglobulinemia
- Sometimes only a test tube finding
Treatment of Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A usually heals spontaneously with no complications
Hepatitis A vaccine is highly effective combined with immune globulin for maximum protection (antibodies given within 2 weeks after exposure)
Immune globulin can be given during pregnancy and breast-feeding
There is no live virus in hepatitis A vaccines, because it is inactivated during production. No serious adverse side effects have been attributed to the vaccine.
- Safety of the vaccine has not been determined.
- The vaccination cannot be used after exposure to the virus
Hepatitis A endemic regions include:
- Asia (except Japan)
- Central America
- Eastern Europe
- Parts of the Caribbean
- South America
- The Mediterranean basin
- The Middle East
Hepatitis A is the most common vaccine-preventable disease in travelers to endemic regions.
Travelers to endemic areas can contract Hepatitis A even in the best hotels, resorts and restaurants.
Up to 30-35 million travelers from industrialized nations annually visit regions where the risk of contracting hepatitis A is 3 to 6 per 1,000 per month of stay. Under poor hygienic conditions, this risk may be increased up to six times. In unprotected travelers, Hepatitis A occurs 100 times more often than typhoid fever and 1,000 times more often than cholera.
Hepatitis A Vaccine Is Recommended For These Risk Groups:
Persons traveling to or working in countries with a high incidence of Hepatitis A including:
- Military personnel
- People working or studying abroad in countries with high or intermediate levels of Hepatitis A
- Tourists where risk exists even if staying in luxury accommodation
Children in communities with high rates of Hepatitis A outbreaks, including:
- Alaska Natives
- American Indians
Vaccination of children before starting school should be a priority. Children should be routinely vaccinated from 2 years old both in rural and urban areas.
Men who have sex with men:
- Sexually active men (both adolescents and adults) who have sex with men should be vaccinated as there have been frequent outbreaks in urban areas in United States, Canada and Australia.
- Illegal drug users (injecting and non-injecting) should be vaccinated if local outbreaks of Hepatitis A occur as outbreaks have been reported in United States and Europe.
- Persons working with virus-infected primates or with hepatitis A virus in a research laboratory setting should be vaccinated. There have been outbreaks reported from primates born in the wild, not in captivity.
Chronic liver disease patients:
- Persons with chronic liver disease or who are recipients of liver transplants are at a higher risk of developing fulminant hepatic failure (rapid onset of liver failure often leading to death) and should be vaccinated for Hepatitis A.
- Persons who have never had hepatitis A but are using clotting-factor concentrates, especially solvent detergent-treated concentrates, should be vaccinated.
- Hemophiliacs (Factor VIII, Factor IX) receiving replacement therapy should be vaccinated as there is an increased risk of transmission from clotting-factor concentrates that are not heat inactivated.
People with AIDS:
- AIDS sufferers are more prone to contracting hepatitis and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
Hepatitis A Vaccine Is NOT Recommended For:
Food service workers:
- Food borne hepatitis outbreaks are relatively uncommon in the United States, but consideration may be given to vaccination when community outbreaks occur.
- Among workers exposed to sewage, no work-related outbreaks have been reported.
- Doctors, nurses and other health care workers are not at increased risk for hepatitis A.
Children under 2 years of age:
- The vaccine is not currently licensed for this age-group.
Children attending Day-care:
- Outbreaks of Hepatitis A are not frequent enough to warrant vaccination.
- The vaccine is not recommended during pregnancy.
Treatment for Hepatitis B
There is no medical treatment but an effective vaccination is available.
There are two medications to treat chronic Hepatitis B Virus:
- Interferon (IFN)
Less than 50% of patients with chronic Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) are suitable for Interferon therapy:
- Initially, 40% of Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) patients who are treated with Interferon (IFN) will respond
- Some will relapse when the treatment is stopped
- About 35% of eligible patients will benefit
A number of side effects have been experienced from this treatment including:
- flu-like symptoms
- loss of appetite
- thinning of hair
Blood tests are needed to monitor levels of Interferon as it can also lower the production of white blood cells, platelets and liver enzymes by depressing the bone marrow.
A person who is infected with Hepatitis B virus can
- 95% of infected adults develop antibodies but usually recover within 6 months with immunity to the disease..
- Blood tests will test positive for Hepatitis B virus (HBV) Antibody and Blood Banks will not accept blood donations from people who test positive to Hepatitis B antibodies.
Become chronically infected:
- A person is classified as a carrier or chronically infected if the virus has not been cleared from the body within 6 months.
- These people often have no signs or symptoms, however, the virus remains in blood and body fluids and can infect others.
- People who are chronically infected should avoid all alcohol as it may cause additional damage to their livers.
Prevention of Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A affects anyone and ranges from isolated cases to widespread epidemics with outbreaks about every 10 years nationwide.
Preventing the spread of Hepatitis A:
- good personal hygiene
- practicing safe sex using latex condoms
- proper sanitation
- relevant community information
- All sores and rashes should be covered and not touched
- Clean up any blood spills with a 10% solution of household bleach
- Infected persons should not pre-chew food for babies
Do not share anything that could have an infected person’s blood on it including:
- body piercing instruments
- cocaine straws
- drug needles and other drug paraphernalia
- nail clippers
Prevention of Hepatitis B
- All individuals living in the same household with a chronically infected individual should be vaccinated against Hepatitis B.
- If exposed to Hepatitis B, get a Hepatitis B immune globulin ( HBIG) injection within 14 days following exposure.
- Individuals with hepatitis C and other chronic liver diseases should receive the Hepatitis B vaccine.
- Practice the safety measures as for Hepatitis A.
- Those who are chronically infected with Hepatitis B virus should be vaccinated against Hepatitis A as well.
Risk Groups recommended for vaccination:
- all newborns and children up to the age of 19
- drug users
- those who are are exposed to blood at their workplace
- those with multiple sex partners.
Vaccination provides protection for more than 15 years and boosters are not recommended.
For more information about Hepatitis, watch this video: