What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis refers to the inflammation of the liver.

Here you are to learn more about hepatitis, types of hepatitis and the different stages of hepatitis.

healthy liver and hepatitis damaged liver with cirrhosis

Types of hepatitis

Types of hepatitis are categorized as viral hepatitis which are caused by viral infections and non-viral hepatitis which are caused by non-infectious causes.

Viral hepatitis

Hepatitis A is caused by the Hepatitis A Virus (HAV). It is transmitted through eating infected oral fecal matter.

Hepatitis A can be prevented through:

  1. Vaccination
  2. Practicing good hygiene i.e.
  • Washing hands thoroughly 
  • Avoiding the consumption of contaminated food or water.

In most cases, hepatitis A resolves on its own without specific treatment. The focus of treatment is primarily on supportive care to relieve symptoms and aid in recovery.

“A healthy person generally doesn’t get any treatment because they will recover. However, treatment is considered if it’s a high risk patient, such as someone with a weak immune system.”

Please note that the hepatitis A virus can survive for months outside a host body which increases the risk of transmission, ensure thorough washing of food and fruits before eating and also heating food and liquids to temperatures of 185°F (85°C) for at least 1 minute can kill the virus.

Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) that attacks and injures the liver. It is the most common hepatitis in Uganda.

Hepatitis B is transmitted through direct contact with certain bodily fluids of an infected person i.e.

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Vaginal fluids

HBV is most commonly transmitted from an infected mother to their baby during childbirth.

It is also transmitted through blood transfusions, unsterile medical or dental equipment, unprotected sex, or unsterile needles, or by sharing personal items such as tooth brushes, razor blades, nail clippers, body jewelry.

You can only identify a person with HBV only with a blood test. Most people infected with hepatitis B do not present with symptoms hence unknowingly spread the virus to others.

Furthermore, it silently damages the liver progressing to cirrhosis, liver cancer and death overtime.

Hepatitis B is vaccine preventable and treatable in both children and adults. The focus of treatment is primarily on supportive care to relieve symptoms and aid in recovery not to cure hepatitis B.

Medication for HBV is only prescribed to qualified patients (assessed by a health worker) as not all need it to manage infection, however once initiated on medication it is lifelong, avoid self medication as this may just accelerate your infection and damage your liver further.

HBV can survive outside the body for at least 7 days. During then, it can still cause infection if it enters the body of a person who is not vaccinated. HBV incubation period ranges from 30 to 180 days.

Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).

Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. This means that blood infected with the virus must get into the bloodstream of another person to be passed on.

Hepatitis C is not vaccine preventable but can be cured through treatment.

Without treatment, hepatitis C can cause serious damage to the liver. Untreated HCV may eventually lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure. With treatment, it’s usually possible to cure hepatitis C after just a few months.

People living with hepatitis C may not present signs and symptoms of until the liver has already been significantly affected. HCV can only be diagnosed using a medical blood test.

HCV is mainly transmitted through sharing sharps, needles, unsafe healthcare practices, including improper sterilization of medical equipment or accidental needlestick injuries, unsafe blood transfusions etc.

HCV can survive outside the body at room temperature, on environmental surfaces, for up to 3 weeks.

Hepatitis D also known as delta hepatitis is transmitted by the hepatitis D virus.

Hepatitis D is a coinfection of hepatitis B, therefore only infects people with HBV.

HDV has the same modes of transmission as the hepatitis B virus and an infected mother can pass on HBV and HDV to their newborn during childbirth.

Hepatitis D virus infection can worsen the outcomes of hepatitis B infection and increase the risk of severe liver disease. HDV is treated by managing hepatitis B.

Therefore prevention is crucial for hepatitis D, and the best way to prevent HDV infection is by preventing hepatitis B infection. This can be achieved through HBV vaccination, practicing safe sex, avoiding needle sharing, and following appropriate infection control measures in healthcare settings.

Hepatitis E is caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV).

HEV is transmitted through the consumption of contaminated water or food.

Prevention of hepatitis E  involves ensuring access to safe drinking water and practicing good hygiene practices and sanitation measures.

In areas with a high prevalence of hepatitis E, it is advisable to drink boiled or treated water, avoid consuming raw or undercooked meat, and practice thorough hand washing before handling food.

Hepatitis E infection usually resolves on its own without specific treatment and most individuals recover without long-term complications.

The good news is that the hepatitis E virus is vaccine preventable.

Please note that the hepatitis E virus can survive for months outside a host body which increases the risk of transmission, ensure thorough washing of food and fruits before eating and also heating food and liquids to temperatures of 185°F (85°C) for at least 1 minute can kill the virus.


Non-viral hepatitis

Alcohol induced hepatitis is caused by excessive consumption of alcohol, which harms the liver.

See a doctor if you present symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis or if you can’t control your drinking. Seeking help can support you find ways to stop.

Autoimmune disease happens when the body’s natural defense system can’t tell the difference between your own cells and foreign cells, causing the body to mistakenly attack normal cells.

Autoimmune hepatitis is caused by the immune system attacking the liver. This can happen due to unknown reasons, causing inflammation, liver scarring, liver cancer and liver failure.

Some diseases and certain toxic substances and drugs can cause this to happen.

Toxic hepatitis is caused by chemicals, drugs (prescription and over-the-counter) and nutritional supplements.

Stages of hepatitis infection

There are two main stages of hepatitis infection:

  1. Acute hepatitis – Diagnosed within 6 months of infection.
  2. Chronic hepatitis – Diagnosed after 6 months of infection.

Acute hepatitis

Acute hepatitis is infection which diagnosed within six (6) months of infection.

Patients with acute viral hepatitis usually present with symptoms such as fever, nausea, malaise, fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice dark urine, light-colored stools and abdominal pain.

Patients with acute hepatitis infection usually clear off the infection within 6 months of infection however if a person doesn’t it is advised that they are enrolled on treatment as this is now chronic infection.

Chronic hepatitis

Chronic hepatitis infection lasts six months or longer. It stays because your immune system can’t fight off the infection.

Chronic hepatitis B infection may last a lifetime, ultimately progressing to cirrhosis, liver cancer and/ or liver failure.

Some people with chronic hepatitis B may have no symptoms at all.

Learn more about hepatitis B