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Understanding Viral Hepatitis

Every year, July 28th marks World Hepatitis Day, a time to raise awareness about viral hepatitis and its serious global impact.

Viral hepatitis causes more than 1 million deaths worldwide each year. It is estimated that approximately 257 million people are living with chronic hepatitis C across the globe, whilst another 71 million are living with chronic hepatitis B. An additional 290 million people are estimated to be living unknowingly with viral hepatitis.

The good news is that steps can be taken to help stop the transmission of viral hepatitis, vaccines are available to prevent certain types of viral hepatitis (hepatitis A and hepatitis B), and proper diagnosis and treatment can help prevent serious complications, such as cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer.

Here at Health Edco, we have effective and engaging health education materials that are perfect to raise awareness about hepatitis, risk factors for the transmission of some forms of viral hepatitis (such as injection drug use and having sex without a condom) and vaccination for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Learn more about the different types of viral hepatitis as well as just a few of our health education resources for hepatitis prevention and awareness.

What Is Viral Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis can be caused by alcohol abuse, injection drug abuse, some medications, or exposure to certain chemicals. Viral hepatitis is inflammation of the liver caused by certain viruses. Some forms of viral hepatitis are acute infections, meaning that they are short-term infections that usually improve after several weeks. If viral hepatitis leads to a chronic, or long-term, infection, it may progress to cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, liver failure, liver cancer, and death.

Our Death of a Liver Easel Display shows
a healthy, hepatic, and cirrhotic liver.

What Are the Different Forms of Viral Hepatitis?

Researchers have identified five distinct hepatitis viruses, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatitis D, and hepatitis E. In the UK, hepatitis C is the most common type of viral hepatitis.

Hepatitis A is a virus that is present in an infected person’s stool. It is typically spread through contaminated food or water. Although hepatitis A is not common in the UK, it is more typically found in countries with poor sanitation and limited access to clean water. Hepatitis A can also be spread through sexual contact. Men who have sex with men and people who use shared injection drug equipment are at higher risk for contracting hepatitis A.

Most hepatitis A infections last only a few months and only rarely lead to long-lasting damage. Although not routinely offered in the UK because the risk is low, a hepatitis A vaccination is available to those at increased risk, such as people travelling to parts of the world where hepatitis A is more common and those who may be exposed to hepatitis A as a result of their job or other practices. Vaccination may also be recommended for adults with chronic liver disease.

Our Childhood Immunizations Folding Display provides information about
hepatitis B vaccines as a part of a child’s routine immunisation schedule.

Hepatitis B is a more serious form of viral hepatitis than hepatitis A. The virus is spread through contact with an infected person’s blood, semen, or other body fluids. Although hepatitis B is uncommon in the UK, it typically is transmitted from an infected mother to her unborn baby. Hepatitis B can also spread through having sex without a condom or by injection drug use.

Adults infected with hepatitis B usually are able to recover after a few months, but those infected as children often develop a serious, chronic infection that can progress to liver failure, liver cancer, and death. To prevent hepatitis B infection, the hepatitis B vaccine was added to children’s routine vaccination programme in 2017. The hepatitis B vaccine is also recommended for adults at higher risk, including people who are travelling to other countries where hepatitis B is more common.

Our What You Should Know About STDs Folding Display discusses the
sexual transmission of viral hepatitis and vaccines for hepatitis A and B.

Like hepatitis B, hepatitis C spreads through contact with an infected person’s blood or other body fluids, and it can progress to cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. In the UK, hepatitis C is most commonly spread through the use of shared drug injection equipment, but it also can be transmitted by having sex without a condom, as well as through accidental needle sticks, the use of unsterile tattoo equipment, or the use of an infected person’s razor or other personal items. The virus can also be transmitted from a mother to her unborn child.

In the UK, it is estimated that about 215,000 people have hepatitis C, and many of them don’t know it, making testing for hepatitis C the only way to know for certain. It is estimated that approximately half of all injection drug users in the UK are infected with hepatitis C. Although there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, treatments are available that can cure most chronic hepatitis C infections and stop the progression of chronic liver disease.

Our Anatomy of an Opioid Abuser 3-D Display explains that
liver damage can be caused by injection opioid abuse.

Other types of viral hepatitis include hepatitis D and hepatitis E. Hepatitis D develops only in people already with hepatitis B and is spread through contact with the blood of an infected person. Vaccination against hepatitis B can also prevent hepatitis D. Spread primarily through contaminated drinking water or food such as undercooked meat, hepatitis E is more prevalent in developing countries. Although hepatitis E typically causes only a mild, short-term infection, the virus is especially dangerous to women who are pregnant and can lead to liver failure and death for both mother and baby. Although vaccines can prevent hepatitis E infection, they are not widely available.

What Are Symptoms of Hepatitis?

Not everyone who has hepatitis has symptoms, which is why so many people may be unaware of the infection. If symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)

  • Dark urine or pale, greyish bowel movements

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Abdominal pain

  • Diarrhoea
Our Pickled Liver Model depicts the
similarities between a cirrhotic liver and a pickle.

Learn More About Our Related Health Education Resources

Health Edco has teaching tools that can educate any audience about multiple risk factors for viral hepatitis in our product sections devoted to general health, relationships and sex education (RSE), and drug abuse education. To see teaching tools that highlight the dangers of alcohol abuse that can lead to alcoholic hepatitis, please visit our alcohol education materials section.

©2020 Health Edco®