Viral hepatitis is an infection which is caused by a virus that mainly affects the liver. The liver is inflamed, becomes tender and gets swollen. The infection can destroy some parts of the liver.
There are three basic types of viral hepatitis: Hepatitis A Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. These types of hepatitis depend on the type of virus that is responsible for the infection.
A fourth virus that is known as the delta hepatitis virus causes hepatitis only in a person who is already infected with Hepatitis B. Other viruses attached with hepatitis include Hepatitis E and G.
How does viral hepatitis occur?
The viruses that cause hepatitis can be spread by:
- contamination from bowel movements
- inadequately cooked shellfish taken from polluted waters
- sexual contact
- contaminated needles
- nasal mucus
- Breast milk
Some types of viral hepatitis can be carried by carriers who show no symptoms. These people are called asymptomatic carriers.
How is viral hepatitis diagnosed?
Your doctor will review your symptoms and examine you. The doctor will press your abdomen to see if the liver is bigger in size or not. The doctor can perform some of the following lab tests:
- analysis of a urine sample
- analysis of a stool sample
- Blood tests, including tests to determine what type of hepatitis you have.
What are the symptoms of viral hepatitis?
Symptoms of viral hepatitis may not show until 2 weeks to 6 months after a person is infected with the virus, or there may never be any obvious symptoms.
When symptoms first occur, they can be the following typical symptoms of infection:
- loss of appetite
- general aches
Other possible early symptoms are:
- itching hives
- painful joints
- loss of taste for cigarettes in smokers
After several days other symptoms may follow:
- nausea and vomiting
- bad breath, bitter taste in the mouth
- darkened urine
- yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice)
- pain below the ribs on the right side, especially when pressure is applied
- Bowel movements that are whitish or light yellow and may be looser than normal
How is viral hepatitis treated?
Antibiotics are not useful in treating hepatitis. The usual treatment is bed rest, a balanced diet, and total abstinence from alcohol.
Hospitalization is required only in more serious cases (for instance, if you become severely dehydrated). You should avoid taking certain drugs that are metabolized in the liver. Ask your doctor which drugs these are.