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Published: Thursday July 3, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday July 3, 2014 MYT 2:00:57 PM

What are hepatitis A, B, C, D, E and G?

Hidden danger: You can get hepatitis A not just from eating contaminated DR Y.L.M. cockles, but also from contaminated food or water. — Filepic

Hidden danger: You can get hepatitis A not just from eating contaminated DR Y.L.M. cockles, but also from contaminated food or water. — Filepic

Recently, my brother’s eyes turned yellow and he had mild fever. He was quite ill and we took him to the doctor. The doctor told us he had hepatitis. I'm told this is quite common in our country. What is hepatitis?

The term hepatitis actually means inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis itself is a general term for inflammation of the liver, which can be caused by different agents, such as viruses, alcohol, chemicals and autoimmune diseases. Here, I am only going to talk about viral hepatitis.

There are many types of viral hepatitis – A, B, C, D, E and G. More are likely to be found. The most common types are A, B and C. These viruses specifically target the liver, unlike some other type of viruses which can inflame the liver as well as other organs. They multiply primarily in the liver cells, thus causing damage to the liver.

As a result, the liver cannot function well. One of the liver’s functions is to transform and break down harmful chemicals into something called bilirubin, which will then be excreted through our gut. When this is not performed well, you get that yellow discolouration in your eye and your skin, called jaundice.

Tell me about hepatitis A. Is that the one you get from eating cockles?

Actually, cockles get a bad rap for this. You can get hepatitis A not just from eating contaminated cockles – and I would like to stress on the word “contaminated” – but also contaminated food or water in general. By contamination, I mean that your food or water has been contaminated by human waste.

Hepatitis A is very contagious, but those affected recover without permanent liver damage. The symptoms and signs you get from contracting hepatitis A are typical of hepatitis infections. These symptoms and signs don’t usually appear until a few weeks later. You will not develop ALL these symptoms:

> Tiredness and muscle ache (usually symptoms of all major virus infections)

> Nausea and vomiting

> Abdominal pain or discomfort, especially in the area of your liver – the right side of your upper abdomen, just below your ribs

> Loss of appetite

> Mild fever

> Dark urine

> Jaundice

These symptoms usually last less than two months, but some people have it for as long as six months.

You can also get hepatitis B from tattooing (with an infected and non-sterile needle) and sharing razors or toothbrushes, where blood from an infected person is likely to remain. - MCT
You can also get hepatitis B from tattooing (with an infected and non-sterile needle) and sharing razors or toothbrushes, where blood from an infected person is likely to remain. – MCT

What about hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is much more serious than hepatitis A. This is a disease that can progress to something more complicated, like liver scarring (cirrhosis), liver failure, and even liver cancer. However, most people who have contracted this recover fully, even though they are very ill throughout their disease.

The symptoms and signs usually appear three months after you have been exposed. Unlike hepatitis A, you get hepatitis B from sex, sharing of needles with infected people, or from an infected mother to her child. You can also get it from tattooing (with an infected and non-sterile needle) and sharing razors or toothbrushes, where blood from an infected person is likely to remain.

The symptoms and signs are the same as hepatitis A, only a lot more severe. For example, you may feel a lot more tired and ill in general. About 6% to 10% of people who have hepatitis B go on to become chronic hepatitis B carriers, and they can infect people years to decades even after they themselves have already recovered. Chronic hepatitis B can go on being undetected for decades until you suffer from serious complications like liver cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer.

What about hepatitis C?

This one can be quite dangerous because most people who contract it have no symptoms whatsoever. You don’t even know you ever had it until you show up with complications decades later. Hepatitis C is considered to be the most virulent of the hepatitis viruses. It is generally passed through contaminated blood, mainly through the sharing of contaminated needles.

What about hepatitis D, E and G?

The most important of these is hepatitis D, though not many people have heard of it. The D virus is a very small virus which requires the hepatitis B virus to be present in order to infect people as it cannot survive on its own. Just like hepatitis B, it is also spread through shared needles, blood and sex. If you have concomitant hepatitis B and D disease, you can develop liver scarring very rapidly. Hepatitis E is very similar to hepatitis A, while hepatitis G was only recently discovered and resembles hepatitis C a lot.

> Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

Tags / Keywords: Health, hepatitis

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Hidden danger: You can get hepatitis A not just from eating contaminated cockles, but also from contaminated food or water. - Filepic

What are hepatitis A, B, C, D, E and G?

3 July 2014

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epa03192046 A Kashmiri Muslim potter leaves his footprint in the mud as he works on an earthen pots in the outskirts of Srinagar, India, 22 April 2012. Earth Day is marked annually on 22 April, to raise awareness and public responsibility in environment-sustainable practices to care for the earth.  EPA/FAROOQ KHAN

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