“Hepatitis is a chronic inflammation of the liver,” says Devina Bhasin, M.D., a hepatologist at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. “Immune cells or inflammatory cells go into the liver and can cause damage.”
There are two forms of hepatitis:
- Acute hepatitis, which lasts less than six months. In these cases, the body usually eliminates the virus itself.
- Chronic hepatitis, which lasts longer than six months. The body is unable to clear the virus, which can lead to chronic disease, inflammation and scarring of the liver.
“There are several types of hepatitis viruses throughout the world,” Dr. Bhasin explains. “The main types that we see in the United States are hepatitis A, B and C.”
The most common form is hepatitis A. It is transmitted by contaminated food, through a fecal or oral route. It usually resolves on its own with minimal need for treatment.
Hepatitis B is very easily transmitted by any bodily fluid.
“That includes blood, saliva, urine or sexual contact,” she says. “There are good treatments for hepatitis B. It’s important to be evaluated for this because it can lead to liver cancer in the future, as well as cirrhosis.”
There is a vaccine available for hepatitis B, but Dr. Bhasin says there is not currently a policy for universal vaccination of young people.
“Hepatitis C is the third virus that is very common in the United States,” says Dr. Bhasin. “Unfortunately, four out of five people don’t actually know that they are infected with the virus.”
Symptoms of hepatitis C can be very vague.
“It might just be not feeling well, a little bit tired or achy,” she explains. “The disease can become chronic. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine against this virus. There is no way to protect ourselves against it.”
Risk factors include:
- Intravenous drug usage
- Sharing needles, such as insulin needles
- Multiple sexual partners
- Any blood to blood contact
“It’s important to be aware of hepatitis C mainly because there are so few symptoms,” says Dr. Bhasin. “Most people who have it are not aware that they have it.”
Treatment can help prevent the disease from becoming more severe later on in life.
“If you have any risk factors or you were born between 1945 and 1965, you need to be tested,” she says. “If you’re positive, you need to consider being treated.”
For more information about treating liver disease, visit Piedmont’s Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Services.