Understanding The “ABCs” Of Hepatitis – The Numbers Behind The Disease
Most nurses are familiar with hepatitis. Viral hepatitis affects around 6 million Americans per year, and if you’ve worked in a hospital, you’ve almost certainly had to treat a patient who was suffering from some form of hepatitis.
“Hepatitis” refers to any inflammation of the liver – and hepatitis can be caused by overuse of prescription medications, alcohol use, and certain toxic chemicals. However, the most common cause of hepatitis is viral infection.
In the United States, the three most common forms of viral hepatitis are known as hepatitis A, B, and C. While there are other forms of viral hepatitis, these three are the most common.
Though the specifics of each virus differs, the effect of each viral attack is the same. These viral infections damage the liver, harming the body’s ability to process nutrients, filter blood, and stave off infection. Let’s take a deeper look at each form of hepatitis now.
Hepatitis A is one of the least common forms of hepatitis in America. This is because almost all children 12 months or older are vaccinated for Hepatitis A, preventing the viral spread of this infection.
While outbreaks of the disease do still occur, Hepatitis A is by far the least significant form of hepatitis in the US, affecting only around 2,500 people per year. However, Hepatitis A is still a major problem in many developing countries, especially those without modern sanitation.
This is because the primary vector of Hepatitis A transmission is through fecal matter. Ingestion of food or drink that has been contaminated with microscopic bits of fecal matter from an infected person can cause the virus to spread.
Despite this, Hepatitis A is generally the least harmful form of the virus. Infected individuals may be sick for a few weeks or months but usually recover completely, with no long-term liver damage.
Treatment is supportive. Patients are provided with bed rest and medication for pain management, and their bodies are allowed to fight off the infection.
Hepatitis B is the second most common form of hepatitis infection. Around 19,200 new infections occur per year, and the overall estimate of people living with Hepatitis B is somewhere between 850,00 – 2.2 million.
One of the most shocking statistics behind Hepatitis B is how many people are unaware that they have the disease. Around 2/3 of all Hepatitis B patients were unaware that they were infected.
The primary transmission method of Hepatitis B is bodily fluids, leading to its classification as an STI (Sexually Transmitted Disease). The most common vectors of infection are semen and blood.
The effects of Hepatitis B are much more severe and long-lasting than those of Hepatitis A. An infection can result in a mild illness that last several weeks, or a chronic, lifelong condition. Chronic Hepatitis B can contribute to a dramatic increase in the risk of liver cancer, liver cirrhosis, or total liver failure.
In recent years, more people have opted to be vaccinated for Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B vaccination is now recommended for all infants, children under the age of 19, and healthy adults who may be at risk of infection.
Hepatitis C is the most widespread form of hepatitis – and it’s also the most difficult to treat and prevent. There is currently no vaccination for Hepatitis C, and most people who are infected end up with a life-long chronic Hepatitis C infection.
In the US, it’s estimated that 2.7-3.9 million people are living with the disease. As with Hepatitis B, many people are not aware that they’re infected – around 50% of infected individuals are unaware of their condition.
People born from 1945-1965 have a much higher risk of Hepatitis C infection. This is because Hepatitis C is spread through blood, and until 1992, widespread screenings were not conducted for Hepatitis C in donated blood and organs, leading to many accidental infections.
Today, viral outbreaks are very uncommon in medical facilities, but the virus can still be spread through vectors such as shared or used syringes, or coming in direct contact with the blood of an infected person.
The effects of Hepatitis C are much more severe than those of Hepatitis A & B. 75-85% of affected individuals will develop chronic infections. 5-20% of affected individuals will develop severe liver cirrhosis, and around 1%-5% will die from liver cancer or liver failure. Though treatment with antiretroviral drugs is common, there is no cure for chronic Hepatitis C infection.
Understand The Difference Between Each Form Of Hepatitis – Provide Better Patient Care!
Hopefully, this article has been helpful to you, and will help you understand the differences between the most common forms of viral hepatitis. Each case of hepatitis is different, but knowing the basics behind each form of the disease will certainly be helpful as you treat patients with hepatitis.
For more information about hepatitis, visit the CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis online. You’ll find helpful facts, figures, and information about risk factors that will be valuable as you continue to educate yourself about viral hepatitis and how it can be fought in hospitals.