Viral hepatitis is liver inflammation due to a viral infection. It may present in acute form as a recent infection with relatively rapid onset, or in chronic form.
The most common causes of viral hepatitis are the five unrelated hepatotropic viruses hepatitis A, B, C, D and E
Hepatitis A or infectious jaundice is caused by hepatitis A virus (HAV), a picornavirus transmitted by the fecal-oral route often associated with ingestion of contaminated food. It causes an acute form of hepatitis and does not have a chronic stage. The patient's immune system makes antibodies against HAV that confer immunity against future infection. People with hepatitis A are advised to rest, stay hydrated and avoid alcohol. Hepatitis A can be spread through personal contact, consumption of raw sea food, or drinking contaminated water. This occurs primarily in third world countries. Strict personal hygiene and the avoidance of raw and unpeeled foods can help prevent an infection. Infected people excrete HAV with their feces two weeks before and one week after the appearance of jaundice. The time between the infection and the start of the illness averages 28 days (ranging from 15 to 50 days), and most recover fully within 2 months, although approximately 15% of sufferers may experience continuous or relapsing symptoms from six months to a year following initial diagnosis.
Hepatitis B is caused by hepatitis B virus, a hepadnavirus that can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis. Chronic hepatitis develops in the 15% of adults who are unable to eliminate the virus after an initial infection. Identified methods of transmission include contact with blood, blood transfusion (now rare), unsanitary tattoos, sex (through sexual intercourse or contact with bodily fluids), or mother-to-child by breast feeding; there is minimal evidence of transplacental crossing. However, in about half of cases the source of infection cannot be determined. Blood contact can occur by sharing syringes in intravenous drug use, shaving accessories such as razor blades, or touching wounds on infected persons. Needle-exchange programs have been created in many countries as a form of prevention.
Patients with chronic hepatitis B have antibodies against the virus, but not enough to clear the infected liver cells. The continued production of virus and countervailing antibodies is a likely cause of the immune complex disease seen in these patients. A vaccine is available to prevent infection for life. Hepatitis B infections result in 500,000 to 1,200,000 deaths per year worldwide due to the complications of chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma. Hepatitis B is endemic in a number of (mainly South-East Asian) countries, making cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma big killers.
Hepatitis C (originally "non-A non-B hepatitis") is caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV), an RNA virus of the family Flaviviridae. HCV can be transmitted through contact with blood (including through sexual contact if the two parties' blood is mixed) and can also cross the placenta. Hepatitis C usually leads to chronic hepatitis, culminating in cirrhosis in some people. It usually remains asymptomatic for decades. Patients with hepatitis C are susceptible to severe hepatitis if they contract either hepatitis A or B, so all persons with hepatitis C should be immunized against hepatitis A and hepatitis B if they are not already immune, and avoid alcohol. The genotype of the virus is the primary determinant of the rate of response to this treatment regimen, with genotype 1 being the most resistant. Hepatitis C is the most common chronic blood-borne infection in the United States.
The Hepatitis D virus (HDV) or hepatitis delta agent belongs to the genus Deltavirus and causes Type D Hepatitis. It is similar to a viroid as it can only propagate in the presence of the hepatitis B virus, depending on the helper function of HBV for its replication and expression. It has no independent life cycle, but can survive and replicate as long as HBV infection persists in the host body.It can only cause infection when encapsulated by hepatitis B virus surface antigens.
The Hepatitis E virus (HEV), from the family Hepeviridae, produces symptoms similar to hepatitis A, although it can take a fulminant course in some patients, particularly pregnant women (mortality rate about 20%); chronic infections may occur in immune-compromised patients. It is more prevalent in the Indian subcontinent. The virus is feco-orally transmitted and usually is self-limited.
Primary Stage: (This is mostly applicable to
hepatitis A, in the early stage of the disease.)
Occasional jaundice (Damp-Heat Stage affecting the Blood)