Hepatitis is often misunderstood as only associated with people who have HIV/AIDs or engage in risky behavior. This viral killer claims the lives of 1.4 million people worldwide every year — that’s 4,000 people per day.
Luckily, and unlike other illnesses, there are treatments for hepatitis B and a cure for hepatitis C.
However, 95% of people living with viral hepatitis aren’t aware they have the disease. What’s worse, is that only 1% of those living with it receive treatment.
The goal of World Hepatitis Day is to increase awareness and save 7.1 million lives by 2030.
So, what exactly is the difference in Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). For some people, hepatitis B infection becomes chronic, meaning it lasts more than six months.
Common ways HBV is transmitted include:
- Sexual contact. You may become infected if you have unprotected sex with an infected partner whose blood, saliva, semen or vaginal secretions enter your body.
- Sharing of needles. HBV is easily transmitted through needles and syringes contaminated with infected blood.
- Accidental needle sticks. Hepatitis B is a concern for health care workers and anyone else who comes in contact with human blood.
- Mother to child. Pregnant women infected with HBV can pass the virus to their babies during childbirth. However, the newborn can be vaccinated to avoid getting infected in almost all cases. Talk to your doctor about being tested for hepatitis B if you are pregnant or want to become pregnant.
Having chronic hepatitis B increases your risk of developing liver failure, liver cancer or cirrhosis — a condition that causes permanent scarring of the liver. You are also at greater risk of contracting Hepatitis D once you have HBV, though it’s extremely rare in the United States.
Most people infected with hepatitis B as adults do make a full recovery within the first six months. However, infants and children are more likely to develop chronic hepatitis B once infected. You can prevent getting hepatitis B with a vaccine, but there’s no cure if you have it. If you are infected, you should use precautions to help prevent spreading HBV to others.
Signs and symptoms of hepatitis B range from mild to severe and usually appear about one to four months after you’ve been infected. Signs and symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness and fatigue
- Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
Hepatitis C is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the liver and leads to inflammation. Most people infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) have no symptoms. In fact, most people don’t know they have the hepatitis C infection until liver damage shows up, sometimes decades later, during routine medical tests.
Hepatitis C is generally considered to be among the most serious of hepatitis viruses. HCV is passed through contact with contaminated blood — most commonly through needles shared during illegal drug use.
Most people do not show signs or symptoms of Hepatitis C until later in the course of virus. However, early symptoms (those showing in the first three months of the illness) may see the following:
- Nausea or poor appetite
- Stomach pain
- Dark-colored urine
- Yellow discoloration in the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Muscle and joint pains
Over time, and after years of not being treated, signs of liver damage caused by the virus may include:
- Bleeding easily
- Bruising easily
- Itchy skin
- Fluid accumulation in your abdomen (ascites)
- Swelling in your legs
- Weight loss
- Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy)
- Spider-like blood vessels on your skin (spider angiomas)
There are two other hepatitis viruses to be aware of.
Hepatitis A is is transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food and water or through direct contact with an infectious person. Almost everyone who contracts hepatitis A makes a full recovery.
Medicine induced hepatitis is also important to note. This is caused when patients take more than the recommended dose of certain medications – particularly those containing acetaminophen. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, diclofenac, and naproxen, may also cause drug-induced hepatitis.
These types have of hepatitis have many of the same symptoms as those listed above for HBV and HCV.
If you are experience any of the above symptoms, please seek medical help. There are many medications available to help you make a full recovery if caught in time. It’s also important to note that if you are traveling overseas, make sure you are adequately vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
Our pharmacies are doing our part to curb diseases like hepatitis by selling needles. A lot of pharmacies don’t do this, but we are trying to help prevent the sharing of needles, thereby reducing the spread of disease.