What are the signs that show a person has any of the types of hepatitis?
Many people with hepatitis do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected. In acute infections, symptoms may develop within a week to six months and may include feeling unwell with nausea, poor appetite, fever and fatigue.
The illness is usually mild and many will recover after these. Some may develop yellowness of the eyes (called jaundice), dark urine, pale stools, joint or abdominal pains.
Persons with chronic viral hepatitis can be without symptoms for decades until the complications set in, at which time the natural pathway is deterioration of liver function.
This is the reason why we screen for chronic Hepatitis and institute preventive measures. As many as two-thirds of people infected with hepatitis B virus and half of those with Hepatitis C virus infection in Nigeria are unaware of the infection.
What are the different complications that may result from hepatitis?
Majority of patients recover completely from acute hepatitis. Very few may develop fulminant liver failure. Other complications that may occur in patients with Hepatitis B, D and C virus infection are chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, chronic liver disease and, in some, liver cancer.
Can hepatitis be cured?
Acute infections with the hepatitis viruses do not have a specific cure and treatment is mainly supportive for symptoms.
Hepatitis A and E do not require a cure as they are mostly self-limiting. Chronic Hepatitis B and D are not curable.
Some medications are available to treat chronic Hepatitis C over a period of eight to 12 weeks and cure is achieved in about 90 per cent of people.
In what ways can treatment be done?
Treatment of acute hepatitis is mainly supportive and may involve fluid replacement either orally or as an infusion, control of fever and pain, and nutrition. This does not usually require hospital admission.
The management of chronic hepatitis such as Hepatitis B, C and D requires regular monitoring of signs of liver disease progression.
This involves regular assessment of liver enzymes, viral markers, viral load (how much of the virus is in the blood) and scan.
If the disease is found to be progressive, some patients with chronic Hepatitis B will be treated with antiviral drugs.
What can people with hepatitis do to avoid worsening their condition?
People with hepatitis should avoid self-prescription, including the frequently used paracetamol, as a lot of medication is metabolised in the liver. People with hepatitis may have reduced capacity to process some medication, further afflicting the liver.
They are to also avoid alcohol use and aflatoxin-infested groundnuts as these may accelerate liver damage.
What healthy habits can one adopt to prevent hepatitis?
Hepatitis B infection and its complications, including liver cancer, is vaccine preventable. Since 2004, all infants born in Nigeria are required to get scheduled doses of the vaccination from birth and through the first year of life.
This will eliminate the high transmission among children in families that used to be common. High-risk individuals that are exposed, such as spouses of persons infected with Hepatitis B virus; healthcare professionals, such as medical and nursing students, doctors, nurses, lab scientists, hospital attendants, etc., should also be given a three-course vaccine over two months or six months to prevent occupational risk of Hepatitis B infection.
Pregnant women should register for antenatal care at accredited healthcare facilities, where they can be screened for Hepatitis B and C. If she is found to be infected, passive immunisation is given to prevent transmission to the unborn child.
Hepatitis A virus is also vaccine preventable and the vaccine may be given to infants and teenagers, in whom it is more common, and travellers. When eating out, make sure the food is piping hot and avoid salads except you are sure of its source.
Avoid sharing sharp instruments. Ladies should also not use sewing needles that have been previously used to fix hair extensions on one another.