World Hepatitis Day: Why, When, & How To Get Tested For Hepatitis

hepatitis diagnosis

Did you know every 30 seconds, someone dies from a viral hepatitis related illness[1]? Hepatitis means the inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection. Your liver is a vital organ which processes nutrients, filters the blood, and fights infections. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, your body’s significant functions are compromised.

Often caused by a viral infection, Hepatitis A and E are acute infections and spread through contaminated food and water and also by sexual contact. Hepatitis B gets transmitted from mother to baby at birth, from family member to child, by sexual contact, and even sharing razors with infect.

Hepatitis B, C, D are chronic infections and spread on receiving contaminated blood or using contaminated equipment during medical procedures

However, with the existing prevention, testing and treatment services that are available, every hepatitis-related death can be prevented. This world hepatitis day, let’s shed light on the common diagnostic tests available to detect hepatitis and ways to prevent it.

What are the warning signs of hepatitis?

You may have no symptoms of hepatitis, but the liver may be bearing the brunt silently. You may be asymptomatic in the early phase after getting infected with viral hepatitis but as the disease progresses, it can lead to symptoms such as:  

– Extreme fatigue

– Abdominal pain

– Nausea & vomiting

– Loss of appetite

– Yellowing of skin and eyes (signs of jaundice)

– Dark urine

– Unexplained weight loss

If you experience any of the signs of hepatitis or suspect hepatitis, it is wise to consult a doctor and get tested.

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Why would you test for hepatitis?

More than 60% of liver cancer cases are due to late testing and treatment of hepatitis B & C infections [2].  Moreover, hepatitis if not treated on time can progress to cirrhosis or liver cancer. In fact, hepatitis B virus remains infectious for prolonged periods and can spread even in the absence of visible blood! 

Viral hepatitis such as hepatitis A (HAV), hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) is diagnosed by symptoms, a physical exam and blood tests. The doctor will examine for signs of liver damage such as yellowing skin or belly pain. 

Different blood tests can help diagnose hepatitis include:

Hepatitis A Virus (IgG): This test can detect previous exposure or immunity to hepatitis A infection.

Hepatitis A Virus (IgM): It checks for the presence of IgM antibodies produced against hepatitis A virus when the body is first exposed to Hepatitis A.

Hepatitis B (Surface) Antigen: This test can detect the actual presence of the hepatitis B virus (called the “surface antigen”) in your blood.

Hepatitis B Virus – Viral Load, Quantitative: This test helps in detection and quantification of hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA in patients with chronic HBV infection. It will also help in monitoring disease progression and response to Antiviral therapy.

Hepatitis B Surface Antibody: Hepatitis B surface antibody test is performed to detect and diagnose hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. This test looks for antibodies produced in response to the protein present on the viral surface.

Hepatitis C Virus Total Antibody: This test is performed to detect and diagnose hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. It is used to screen individuals with risk factors, people who have symptoms associated with hepatitis, or those who have been exposed to the virus.

Hepatitis C Virus – Viral Load, Quantitative: This test is also known as hep C RNA test which measures the amount of hepatitis C virus often referred as “viral load” in the blood. It helps in treatment monitoring & recurrence detection.

Hepatitis C Virus – Genotyping: HCV (Hepatitis C Virus) genotype test is done to determine the type of HCV virus that has infected the patient. Pre-treatment analysis of hepatitis C genotype is used to determine duration of therapy & predict therapeutic response.

Hepatitis E Virus IgG Antibody: It’s a qualitative assay to detect IgG antibodies to Hepatitis E virus and signifies infection of the virus. IgG Antibody is developed during an  acute infection. 

Hepatitis E Virus IgM Antibody: This test is used to diagnose Hepatitis E infection by measuring IgM antibodies formed in response to the viral infection. IgM Antibody is indicative of recent infection. 

How can we prevent hepatitis?

Get vaccinated: While children are given these between 12 and 23 months of age, older children and adolescents can get the vaccine at an interval of 23 months. 

Refrain from sharing personal hygiene items. Razors, nail cutters, toothbrushes, etc. can carry some blood or other body fluids, increasing the risk of hepatitis B & C. 

Practice safe sex. Unprotected sex puts you at an increased risk of hepatitis B and C.

Strictly follow directions with medicines. Taking the medicines in excess or mixing them will not quicken your recovery, instead, it can harm your liver. 

Avoid reuse of needles. This includes needles used for tattoos and body piercings as well.

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If you have been recently diagnosed with viral hepatitis, then here are a few tips that can help improve your condition. These include:

– Cutting down on alcohol as it can damage your liver and worsen the condition. 

– Keeping a check on your weight in a healthy range, especially if you have hepatitis C. Being overweight can lead to excess fat buildup in the liver and hepatitis C harder to control.

– Ensuring proper management as most people with acute hepatitis get the symptoms resolved over weeks to months. But, some may develop a chronic infection.

Please note: Phlebotomists, doctors or any healthcare professional who gets exposed to blood or body tissues on the job is at a very high risk of getting hepatitis B infection. Ensure to get post-exposure prophylaxis if exposed to hepatitis-virus infected blood.

Remember! 9 in 10 people with hepatitis are unaware of their diagnosis[1]. While your body can clear some forms of hepatitis on its own, it is important to get diagnosed on time to manage other chronic types. Take care of your liver and stay healthy!

The article is written by Ruchismita Deb, Diagnostics Service Expert & reviewed by Dr. Swati Mishra, Medical Editor & Dr. Ruchi Kapoor, MD Pathology.

Recommended Reads:

6 Foods To Add To Your Diet For A Healthy Liver

Let Your Liver Live: 6 Habits Harming Your Liver

References:

1. What is viral hepatitis. World Hepatitis Alliance. Available online at https://www.worldhepatitisalliance.org/what-is-viral-hepatitis/

2. World Hepatitis Day 2018. World Health Organization. Available online at https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-hepatitis-day/2018

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