WHAT IS ACTUALLY HEPATITIS?
Hepatitis is an inflammation or infection of the liver and can result in liver cell damage and destruction. Many people mistakenly think that hepatitis means viral hepatitis and that all forms of hepatitis are contagious. The word ‘hepatitis’ just refers to any inflammation of the liver or the irritation or swelling of liver cells from any cause.
CAUSES OF HEPATITIS
TOXIC HEPATITIS: This form can occur if someone drinks a lot of alcohol, takes certain illegal drugs or medications or he/she is exposed to poisons.
VIRAL HEPATITIS: A group of infectious diseases known as hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E.
NON VIRAL INFECTIVE HEPATITIS: Malaria hepatitis and also autoimmune liver disease.
Hepatitis B virus is the commonest of viral hepatitis. It is now a known fact that about one to three out of every 20 Nigerians live with the hepatitis B virus. Viral hepatitis has become a public health challenge of global proportion. Although there are five distinct types of viral hepatitis (A, B, C, D, E), chronic hepatitis B and C cause 95 per cent hepatitis-related sickness and untimely deaths.
Hepatitis D is less common and occurs only in association with Hepatitis B. The other viruses (namely hepatitis A and E) are spread via contaminated food, water and cause acute infections and outbreaks in areas of poor sanitation and inadequate waste disposal. Acute infections are often short-lived and resolved within a few weeks. The biggest obstacle confronting viral hepatitis treatment in Nigeria is not necessarily the deadly nature of the virus or even the spread of the disease, but lack of awareness among Nigerians about the importance of discovering their hepatitis status.
HEPATITIS B VIRUS
Hepatitis B virus affects people of all ages. Most adults who become infected with hepatitis B get rid of the virus within six months. This type of short infection is known as an acute case of hepatitis B. About 10 per cent of adults infected with the hepatitis B virus develop a chronic, life-long infection.
It is always a good idea to seek medical attention if one doesn’t feel well or if one is uncertain about whether he or she is infected with hepatitis B. A simple hepatitis B blood test can easily diagnose whether or not there is an infection. Testing remains the only way to know for sure if you are infected.
Hepatitis B is commonly called a “silent infection” because most people do not have any symptoms when they are first infected. Thus, they can unknowingly pass the virus to others and continue the silent spread of hepatitis B. The common symptoms are fever, fatigue, muscle or joint pain, loss of appetite, mild nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, pale or light-coloured stool, dark or tea-coloured urine. Serious symptoms that require immediate medical attention includes severe nausea and vomiting, yellow eyes and skin (called “jaundice”), bloated or swollen stomach.
METHOD OF TRANSMISSION
The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through blood and bodily fluids. This can most commonly occur in the following ways: Direct contact with infected blood, unprotected sex, use of illegal or ‘street’ drugs, needles that are contaminated or not sterile, from an infected woman to her newborn during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, body piercing, tattooing, acupuncture and even nail salons are other potential routes of infection unless sterile needles and equipment are used. In addition, sharing sharp instruments such as razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, earrings and jewellery can be sources of infection.
However, hepatitis B is not transmitted casually. It cannot be spread through toilet seats, doorknobs, sneezing, coughing, hugging or eating meals with someone who is infected with hepatitis B.
Having chronic hepatitis B may lead to permanent liver damage, including liver cirrhosis and cancer.