Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. It may be caused by viruses,
drugs, alcohol, and some hereditary and immune problems.
Blood products are safer than ever
Due to major advances in vaccination and the development of highly accurate
screening of blood products, it is now very rare for people in North America
to become infected with hepatitis B virus from blood products following transfusion.
This is also the case in other parts of the world where blood-bank standards
The main hepatitis viruses are hepatitis A, B, C, D, E, and G.
Hepatitis B, C, D, and G are transmitted by blood and body fluids. This
may happen in childbirth, in early infancy from breast feeding, or through needle
sharing or sexual contact. Blood transfusions can also cause these types of
hepatitis. Hepatitis A and E are transmitted through ingestion of food or
water contaminated with feces from an infected person.
Hepatitis A is a common source of epidemics, frequently contaminating
water supplies in the developing world. Hepatitis A can be transmitted through
contaminated feces and in restaurants where food preparers do not wash their
hands sufficiently. Hepatitis A is completely preventable with a vaccine.
Hepatitis B is a highly infective virus that can cause an acute or chronic
infection, which may lead to liver damage or liver cancer. It is transmitted
through blood and body fluids. Fortunately there are vaccines available to help
protect against Hepatitis B. It's a good idea to get vaccinated, especially
if you're at a higher risk (people at higher risk include IV drug users who
share needles and people who have unprotected sex with multiple partners).
Hepatitis C is very common, affecting 1% to 2% of the population. It is transmitted
through blood and body fluids. Hepatitis C has received the most attention because
of contaminated blood used for transfusions, but it is actually transmitted
far more frequently through the use of intravenous drugs. Most people do
not show any symptoms after infection, but 20% to 30% may have symptoms of liver
inflammation (such as yellowing of the skin or eyes, abdominal pain, dark urine,
fever, or loss of appetite). Of people with hepatitis C, 70% to 80% go on to
develop a chronic infection, which may lead to liver damage or cancer.
Hepatitis D can only infect people who are already infected with the hepatitis
B virus. Hepatitis D often makes hepatitis B more aggressive. The symptoms
of hepatitis D are similar to those of hepatitis B. Hepatitis D is transmitted
through blood and body fluids. There is no vaccine for hepatitis D, but being
vaccinated against hepatitis B can also protect you from hepatitis D (because
it can only infect those who already have hepatitis B).
Hepatitis E is transmitted in the same way as hepatitis A. It is found
in developing countries. Symptoms of liver damage usually appear within
2 weeks to 2 months of exposure. Symptoms become more severe with age. Usually,
the body can fight hepatitis E infection on its own. Symptoms include yellow
eyes and skin, abdominal pain, fever, and loss of appetite. Hepatitis E does
not cause chronic infection or long-term liver damage. There are no vaccines
or drug treatments for hepatitis E.
Hepatitis G is a recently discovered virus that is found in about 2% to 5%
of the population. There are usually no symptoms. It is transmitted through
blood and body fluids. It is often found in people who are also infected
with hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV. Of those infected, 15% to 30% will have a
chronic (long-term) infection. At this point, it is not known whether hepatitis
G infection can cause liver damage. So far, there is little evidence to suggest
that it does. There is currently no treatment for hepatitis G infection.