Initial symptoms of hepatitis caused by infection are similar to the common flu and include:
• muscle and joint pain
• a high temperature of 38ºCor above
• fatigue and malaise
• abdominal discomfort/pain, nausea
• occasionally, yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
The affected individuals may also experience darkening of their urine (tea-colored urine) and their stools may turn very light in color (acholic stools).
Symptoms of chronic hepatitis can include:
• feeling unusually tired all the time
• a general sense of feeling unwell
The most common types of viral hepatitis are caused by Hepatits A, B, and C viruses.
Hepatitis A, caused by the hepatitis A virus, is the most common type of viral hepatitis. The infection is usually acquired by the fecal-oral route, i.e., putting something in your mouth that has been contaminated with the feces of someone with hepatitis A.
It is typically a short-term (acute) infection and symptoms fade away within three months. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A other than to relieve symptoms.
A vaccine against hepatitis A exists that confers immunity against the virus.
Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus. It can be transmitted through blood and body fluids, such as semen and vaginal fluids, so it can be spread during unprotected sex, by sharing needles to inject drugs, and from pregnant women to their babies.
Most people who catch hepatitis B are able to clear the infection through their natural immunity and fully recover within a couple of months. However, a small proportion of people develop a long-term infection. This is known as chronic hepatitis B. Chronic hepatitis B can be eradicated with antiviral medication.
A vaccination is available for preventing hepatitis B, which is administered during the 1st year of life, and you do not need to repeat it unless you belong to a high-risk group, such as injection drug users or healthcare workers, or planning to travel to an area that is endemic in hepatitis B.
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus. This can be found in the blood and, to a much lesser extent, the saliva and semen or vaginal fluid of an infected person.
It is particularly concentrated in the blood, so it is usually transmitted through blood-to-blood contact.
The infection usually has no obvious symptoms, or symptoms that are mistaken for the flu, so many people are unaware they are infected.
Approximately one in four people will fight off the infection; the rest will carry the virus in their body for many years. This is known as chronic hepatitis C. In some people, chronic hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis and liver failure.
Chronic hepatitis C can be treated by antiviral medications, which are known for an unfavorable side effect profile.
There is currently no vaccination for hepatitis C.
Vaccines for Hepatitis A and B are safe; you need not be vaccinated for hepatitis B unless you have exposure risk (as mentioned above), but you do need a booster of Hepatitis A vaccine since Lebanon has a relatively high prevalence of this infection.