Viral hepatitis

Viral hepatitis

The Hepatitis B virus as seen under an electron microscope
The Hepatitis B
virus as seen under
an electron microscope

Inflammation refers to a process that can affect any part of the body that is injured, and it leads to that part becoming red, hot, swollen and painful. Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver.

The liver can be affected by many infections, and we will not discuss them here. But it is worth mentioning the hepatitis viruses that commonly affect the liver. These are the Hepatitis A, B and C viruses. The hepatitis A virus causes acute viral hepatitis (or viral jaundice). It enters the body through things we eat or drink. It is almost always self-limiting and does not have any long-term health implications once the acute inflammation has settled.

Hepatitis B and C are more serious conditions. One usually gets these infections from sexual intercourse with an affected person, from transfusion of contaminated blood, or from the use of dirty syringes and needles which have been used by an infected person. A blood test can tell if one is infected. The B and C viruses cause a mild acute hepatitis but this usually settles down, and they do not cause much immediate damage to the liver. But the viruses persist in the liver, and over a period of years will cause chronic inflammation of the liver, leading to cirrhosis and to the development of liver tumours.

Patients diagnosed as having Hepatitis B or C should see a liver physician and discuss receiving anti-viral medical treatment. There is a vaccine that can make one immune to Hepatitis B.

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