According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 354 million individuals globally are living with hepatitis B or C. In addition, there are other types of hepatitis that this number doesn’t include.
The current vaccines that successfully defend against hepatitis are only effective versus hepatitis A and B. However, since some likeness exists between varying types of hepatitis, these vaccines can successfully defend against hepatitis D in some cases.
The overall treatment and management of hepatitis have dramatically improved over the last few decades, with much-improved recovery rates.
What follows will be a discussion about the main types of hepatitis, which are hepatitis A, B, and C. We’ll also cover the causes, symptoms, and diagnostics of the condition. Lastly, we’ll study the impact that COVID-19 has had on hepatitis, particularly hepatitis B.
Characteristics Of Hepatitis
Hepatitis is an inflammatory condition of the liver usually caused by a viral infection; however, in some cases, the inflammatory condition can be an autoimmune phenomenon. There are several types of viral hepatitis, each with similar signs and symptoms.
The following are the three most common types of hepatitis:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
Other types of viral hepatitis include hepatitis D and hepatitis E.
Hepatitis A is the disease resulted from the Hepatitis A virus and is typically a limited infection and does not become a chronic illness. In rare cases, hepatitis A can result in liver failure. Hepatitis A is managed with supportive measures, and individuals usually have a full recovery after the illness. The disease can be prevented by the Hepatitis A vaccine.
Hepatitis B is is the disease resulted from the hepatitis B virus, but unlike hepatitis A, hepatitis B is chronic in nature. After initial infection, the virus remains latent and is controlled by the immune system. The initial infection is usually a milder illness, although a small number of cases can result in liver failure. About 95% of U.S adults successfully recover from hepatitis B. Development of hepatitis B at a younger age is associated with a higher incidence of chronic illness. Similar to hepatitis A, hepatitis B illness can be prevented by receiving the HBV vaccine.
The most common risk factors for hepatitis B are intravenous drug use, pregnancy transmission by an infected mother, unsafe heterosexual or homosexual intercourse with multiple partners, and individuals who are infected with HIV. Individuals who fall into this risk category will need to have screening for hepatitis B.
Hepatitis C is is the disease resulted from the hepatitis C virus, which is the most common blood-based infection in the U.S. Hepatitis C infection typically results in long-term symptoms.
Unfortunately, no vaccine yet exists to prevent hepatitis C. As a result, the majority of patients who contract hepatitis C become chronically infected and have a high likelihood of experiencing additional liver complications.
Signs, Symptoms, and Diagnosis of Hepatitis
Most symptoms are similar across the various types of hepatitis. The most common symptoms associated with hepatitis are abdominal pain, fever, extreme fatigue and lethargy, and discoloration of the skin, eyes, and urine. This yellow discoloration is defined as jaundice.
Successful diagnosis is determined by the judicious utilization of physical examination, blood testing, ultrasound, and liver biopsy. Blood work will consist of basic blood counts and assessment of liver function. Specific blood tests for hepatitis B antigens and antibodies will also be performed. Hepatitis C diagnosis requires an HCV antibody test to detect hepatitis C infection successfully.
COVID-19 and Hepatitis
While it’s uncertain whether or not those with hepatitis or chronic liver disease are more susceptible to COVID-19, those who are immunocompromised and have hepatitis are certainly at greater risk.
Because COVID-19 is so transmissible, it’s difficult to decipher correlation from causation. However, data does suggest that those who do happen to contract COVID-19 while also having pre-existing liver disease are at higher risk for morbidity than those who don’t have liver illness.
A consultation with an infectious disease specialist would be appropriate in the treatment of COVID-19 in individuals with hepatitis B or pre-existing liver disease. Decisions for treatment will need to consider the possibility of liver damage or failure in such a case.
Yet, in any case, it is encouraged that those with hepatitis B or liver disease receive the COVID-19 vaccinations for preventative measures as per the Global Hepatology Society.
The long-term outlook of the livelihood of those living with hepatitis depends on the type of hepatitis and severity. Those living with chronic hepatitis should be under the care of a medical professional and follow prescribed treatment plans.
Hepatitis does have the risk of developing into severe liver disease and possibly liver failure. Yet, the prompt treatment and ongoing management of hepatitis will be the best way to prevent such a complication.
Avoiding the risks for the development of hepatitis and the use of hepatitis vaccine, especially in the health care population, will be the best ways to prevent this illness.