There are different ways that hepatitis B or C can be caught. They are spread by contact with infected blood or other body fluids of people who are infected with hepatitis B or C. Having sex with an infected person is an example of how you could be infected.
When people who use intravenous drugs share needles with someone who has the virus, they can get hepatitis B or C. Health care workers, like nurses, lab technicians and doctors, can get infected if accidentally stuck with a needle used on an infected patient.
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Headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, jaundice (skin turns yellow), weakness and fatigue are included symptoms of hepatitis B and C. Bowel movements may be grey in colour and your urine may be dark and look like tea.
Though, hepatitis is a mild case sometimes. You may not even realize that you have it if you have a mild case. Symptoms are similar to stomach flu, but when it’s a mild case, there may not be any symptoms at all. Some people think they have the flu not knowing that they have hepatitis.
Hepatitis is in the acute stage when you are having symptoms. It can last from several weeks to several months. Hepatitis B or C can become an illness in some people, which lasts a long time. This is called chronic hepatitis. Other people recover from the infection and have no long-term problems.
Chronic hepatitis can set in when a person has recovered from acute hepatitis. When the liver is damaged by the acute illness and doesn’t recover chronic hepatitis occurs. Chronic hepatitis develops in 10% to 20% of people who have hepatitis B and in 30% to 50% of people who have hepatitis C.
People who have hepatitis B or C may not experience any symptoms at all. But chronic hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis of the liver in some people. Cirrhosis occurs when the liver cells die and are replaced by scar tissue and fat. The liver stops working and can’t empty the body of wastes. People may not have symptoms when in the early stages of cirrhosis. When it gets worse, then symptoms start. Those symptoms could be weight loss, fatigue, jaundice, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. Cirrhosis can lead to liver failure (the liver stops working) and liver cancer.
Blood tests are used to diagnose hepatitis B and C. They tell your doctor if your liver is working right and can also be used to follow your condition during treatment.
Your doctor may use an ultrasound exam and x-rays to look at your liver. A liver biopsy may be needed also. With this, a small piece of your liver is taken out with a needle and is looked at under a microscope. It may also help your doctor find out what is wrong with your liver.
Hepatitis B and C are treated with Interferon alfa-2b (brand name: Intron A). This drug helps the immune system fight the hepatitis virus. Many patients with chronic hepatitis B or C found treatment with interferon alfa-2b successful.
Interferon alfa-2b is given as a shot. These shots may be given every day, every other day, or 3 times a week. Lamivudine (brand name: Epivir) is another drug used to treat hepatitis B or C and is given as a pill. Treatment with this medicine may last for a number of months. The length of treatment depends on the severity of the chronic infection. Completing the entire course of treatment is important because it increases your chance of recovering from chronic hepatitis.
There may be side effects from interferon alfa-2b. The most common are flu-like symptoms, like fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. These side effects can be reduced by taking the drug right before going to bed. These side effects are more likely to go away the longer that interferon alfa-2b is taken. Your doctor can also give advice about what you can do to relieve some of the side effects.
There are 7,951,940 Americans that have been infected with hepatitis. Of this, 75% will go on to chronic hepatitis C. About 15% will clear the virus on their own. It is also estimated that 80% of people who are infected don’t know they’re infected at all.
There are a few alternative treatments that some people use. There is a ‘holistic therapy’, which is tailored completely to the individual patient, kind of like the Chinese medicine man prescribes a unique mixture to each individual. Some people use herbal medicines as an alternative to Interferon therapy, although, it isn’t very effective.
Interferon patients are usually told to laugh a lot and to avoid the sun as much as possible. They need to work on strengthening their body’s immuno-defence system. Relatives of hepatitis C patients are also asked to keep their immuno-defence systems strong as a preventive measure.
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