Hepatitis literally means inflammation of the liver (hepat-=liver; “itis”=inflammation). The liver is a hard-working, usually silent, warrior. The liver controls many body functions, processes proteins and fats, and stores glycogen. When it gets infected and inflamed, the complications come in a rainbow of colors and can be deadly. You have only one liver and you can’t live without it.
The most common types of hepatitis are A, B, and C. Each of these affects the liver, but they are separate viruses. Each has its unique characteristics.
Hepatitis A typically lasts a few weeks and comes from ingesting the hepatitis A virus. Have you noticed signs in restaurant bathrooms “Employee Must Wash Hands”? That is because the virus comes from stool, so an unwashed hand can carry the germ right to the food and into your body. It can make you mighty sick, but healthy people usually recover within a month.
Hepatitis A symptoms are colorful because the infected liver cannot process hemoglobin and bilirubin well. Your skin and eyes turn yellow, urine gets dark, stools come out white, and the nausea makes you feel green. Other symptoms are fever, fatigue and no appetite. Symptoms occur two to six weeks after exposure.
Hepatitis B comes through blood and body secretions. Intimacy, dirty injections, and injuries lead the list of pathways. Hepatitis B can also be transmitted from mother to baby during birth, which is why babies are given the hepatitis B vaccine in their first days.
Half of infected adults have no hepatitis B symptoms. Some have symptoms similar to the hepatitis A symptoms, six weeks or six months after exposure. Unlike hepatitis A, hepatitis B infection can become chronic, causing chronic inflammation of the liver, cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease, liver cancer and death.