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Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that is caused by a variety of infectious viruses and other agents which can lead to a range of health issues if left untreated. There are five main strands of hepatitis, A, B, C, D and E. While they all cause liver damage, they differ in important ways including transmission, severity, and treatment.

Signs and symptoms

Many people with hepatitis exhibit only mild symptoms, or sometimes no symptoms at all, which is why it is important to test for it regularly to make sure that you have not contracted it without your knowledge.

Hepatitis A, B and C

Symptoms of hepatitis A, B and C may include fever, malaise, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark-coloured urine and jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).

In some cases, the virus can also cause a chronic liver infection that can later develop into cirrhosis (a scarring of the liver) or liver cancer. These patients are at risk of death.

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D (HDV) is only found in people already infected with hepatitis B (HBV); however, the dual infection of HBV and HDV can cause a more serious infection and poorer health outcomes, including accelerated progression to cirrhosis. Development of chronic hepatitis D is rare.

Hepatitis E

Hepatitis E (HEV) begins with mild fever, reduced appetite, nausea and vomiting lasting for a few days. Some persons may also have abdominal pain, itching (without skin lesions), skin rash or joint pain. They may also exhibit jaundice, with dark urine and pale stools, and a slightly enlarged, tender liver (hepatomegaly), or occasionally acute liver failure.

Treatment for hepatitis

Treatment for hepatitis depends on the strain, with vaccinations being available for hepatitis B to prevent infection (or help manage symptoms in chronic illness), while other variations can be treated with antiretroviral medication.

In some circumstances, people may not recover from hepatitis even with medication, so it is best to take each diagnosis on a case-by-case basis and let your doctor best advise you.