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Do you know the signs of viral hepatitis?

Would you recognise the symptoms of hepatitis if you or a loved one developed them?

While not all types of hepatitis are easily preventable, awareness of these liver diseases can help people seek the medical care they need and take precautions to prevent infection.

Some types of hepatitis can progress to cause permanent scarring of the liver or chronic liver failure, known as cirrhosis, which can increase the risk of developing liver cancer.

The hepatitis A, B and C viruses are the most common in South Africa.

Viral hepatitis

Viral forms of hepatitis sometimes begin with symptoms similar to flu, including loss of appetite and abdominal tenderness.

The whites of the eyes and the skin may develop a yellowish colour (especially on the palms and soles of feet), the urine may be darker than usual and stools may be a pale colour, indicating yellow-jaundice.

Hepatitis A virus

The hepatitis A virus (HAV) is spread when a person eats food or drinks water contaminated with infected animal or human faeces, or comes into contact with an infected person.

When HAV outbreaks occur, the virus can spread quickly. Most people make a full recovery in a month or two.

HAV can usually be prevented through purifying drinking water, washing hands thoroughly before eating or touching the mouth, and ensuring proper food hygiene.

An HAV vaccination is available and has helped to significantly reduce infections.

Hepatitis B virus

The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is one of the most common viral illnesses in the world. It is highly infectious. The virus is found in the body fluids of infected people and can be spread via sex, exposure to blood, sweat, tears and breast milk. It can also be spread from mother to child during birth.

Most people with acute HBV do not develop long-term liver damage. But if the virus becomes chronic, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medicine to help prevent further damage to the liver.

Fortunately, a vaccine that can prevent HBV infection is widely available and should form part of childhood vaccination programmes.

Hepatitis C virus

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is spread through contact with infected blood.

No vaccination against HCV exists yet. HVC is one of the more dangerous forms of hepatitis because in up to 85 per cent of patients the condition progresses to chronic HVC, giving them a significant risk of developing cirrhosis.

Toxic hepatitis

Toxic hepatitis is most commonly caused by alcohol abuse, but can also be caused by certain chemicals and drugs. Always consult your doctor about proper use of prescribed and over-the-counter medicines because these can cause liver damage if not taken properly.

Source: Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS)

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