Hepatitis A & B: What You Should Know
Hepatitis is a term that refers to a collection of infections – all of these infections affect the liver and causes inflammation in the liver. Among all identified hepatitis infections, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B remain the most common in the general population. These conditions produce similar symptoms in the infected patient’s body but are caused by different types of microorganisms, known as viruses. Hepatitis A is more common among the younger generation, while older adults are more likely to be infected with Hepatitis B.
Understanding the risks associated with both Hepatitis A and B is important, as well as why prevention through the appropriate vaccines is important for reducing the risk of complications caused by these infections. We will discuss the difference between these two infections, consider symptoms that individuals should be wary of, and provide details on who is at an increased risk of being infected with these viruses.
Hepatitis A And B: What’s The Difference Between These Infections?
Both Hepatitis A and B are caused by viruses. In some people, the immune system is able to get rid of these viruses before they cause infection. In others, however, the viral microorganisms accumulate and starts to grow and multiply in a person’s liver. This then leads to the development of Hepatitis A or B, depending on the specific virus they were exposed to.
It should be noted that one of the primary differences between these two infections is the fact that Hepatitis A is classified as a self-limiting infection and does not result in chronic illness. Hepatitis B, on the other hand, is considered a more severe infection and often causes chronic illness – even when symptoms are not present, the infection can cause long-term complications that may be hazardous to the wellbeing of the infected person.
What Are The Symptoms of Hepatitis A And B?
There are many similarities between the Hepatitis A and B infections, but also particular factors that make each of them unique. The symptoms caused by both of these infections are often similar. Since Hepatitis B is considered a more severe infection than Hepatitis A, recognition of these symptoms and prompt testing to determine the specific virus causing the infection is very important.
Both of these infections are known to cause the following symptoms in the early acute stages:
- Abdominal pain
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
A more severe symptom of both Hepatitis A and B is jaundice.
With Hepatitis A, the symptoms can make a patient feel ill for just a couple of days in most cases, but some patients may experience worse symptoms that also last for a more significant amount of time.
What Causes These Infections And How Are They Transmitted?
Hepatitis A and B are spread through contact of different bodily fluids and substances. There are differences in how these two viral infections are spread from one person another.
- Hepatitis A is usually spread from an infected person with poor overall hygiene to a person not infected due to the virus spreading from fecal matter to their hands. Trace amounts that are invisible to the naked eye are enough to cause the virus to spread. When this person handles food or touches another person, they put the uninfected person at risk of being infected with Hepatitis A. The virus that causes this infection can survive for up to three hours outside of the body. Hepatitis A is less often transmitted through sexual activity and kissing.
- Hepatitis B primarily transmits from an infected person to an individual who has not been infected with the virus through contact with the infected person’s blood. Certain body fluids can also carry the virus. This virus is more commonly spread through sexual activity than Hepatitis A. The sharing of needles can also cause transmission of the viruses that cause the Hepatitis B infection.
What Are The Possible Complications Of Hepatitis A And B?
In the majority of cases, Hepatitis A will present itself as a short acute illness that tends to go away. There are more serious complications that may occur in Hepatitis A. Even though rarer than with Hepatitis B, and it is still important to recognize the risks associated with this specific infection.
The most serious complication that may occur in patients with Hepatitis A is acute liver failure. This is a rare complication of the infection, but also very serious. One publication explains that approximately half of all patients who experience acute liver failure as a complication of Hepatitis A will die. The risk of experiencing this complication is higher amongst the elderly, as well as among patients who have already been diagnosed with chronic liver disease prior to the Hepatitis A infection.
Most people with Hepatitis B will not experience any obvious symptoms during the early stages of the infection. The infection will continue to cause inflammation in their liver and lead to long-term damage. This, in turn, can lead to serious complications affected the person’s liver. Complications associated with Hepatitis B include:
- Liver failure
- Liver cancer
How Are Hepatitis A And B Diagnosed?
Even though numerous symptoms are associated with both Hepatitis A and B infections, it is important to understand that other health problems can also cause these symptoms. Additionally, many symptoms are shared among different types of hepatitis infections. For this reason, a physician is unable to diagnose any of these infections through a physical examination, but would rather require additional blood tests for confirmation.
When blood tests are performed, the physician will request that a laboratory looks for antibodies against the viruses that are known to causes Hepatitis A and B infections. Blood tests will look for both Immunoglobulin M and Immunoglobulin G antibodies, which can help to indicate an existing acute infection, as well as whether the patient was previously infected with these viruses.
What Are The Treatment Options For Hepatitis A And B?
The treatment options available for both of these infections defer. While Hepatitis A is an acute infection, Hepatitis B can result in a chronic disease that leads to longer-term effects on the liver. For this reason, patients diagnosed with Hepatitis A will usually be monitored and offered treatments that target the symptoms they are experiencing. In cases where Hepatitis B is diagnosed, additional treatment options are usually presented to the patient to address the damaging effects that the disease has on their liver.
In addition to providing patients with medication to ease symptoms in the case of Hepatitis A, early identification of the virus in a patient’s body may also be treated with an immunoglobulin injection, which may help to prevent the virus from causing an infection. Patients are also advised to reduce their intake of alcohol and certain drugs that can harm their liver. A healthy diet that contains essential nutrients can also be helpful.
Patients with Hepatitis B infections are monitored closely over a period of six months since the infection is often acute and clears up before it can be considered chronic. Should the infection still be present six months after the initial diagnosis, the patient is diagnosed with chronic Hepatitis B, however? In this case, a physician will usually prescribe drugs that have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of this infection.
The recommended drugs for the treatment of Hepatitis B include:
In some cases, a single one of these drugs may be prescribed to the patient. When the infection is more aggressive, a combination of these drugs may be prescribed.
Can These Infections Be Prevented?
The prevention of Hepatitis A and B infections are crucial in the reduction of complications such as liver failure associated with these infections. Vaccines are available to help prevent people from being infected by the viruses that cause both of these infections.
The vaccine that is used to prevent Hepatitis A is made from the virus that causes the disease. It is important to note that the viruses used in the vaccine are dead. This helps the immune system of the patient’s body to produce the right antibodies that make their body immune to the virus that causes this infection. It may take up to four weeks for the body to produce enough antibodies to be protected against Hepatitis A thoroughly.
Vaccines used to prevent the Hepatitis B infection contain a special protein, known as an antigen, which causes the immune system to produce antibodies that protect against the viruses that cause this infection.
Hepatitis A and B are two of the most common forms of the hepatitis infection that affects the worldwide population. These conditions do not always produce symptoms but can lead to life-threatening complications. Frequent testing for these infections can detect the presence of either one at an early stage, resulting in prompt and early treatment. While there is no cure for chronic Hepatitis infections, certain treatments may help to reduce the effects that the disease has on the patient’s body. Being vaccinated against these infections remains the most effective approach since chronic infection can lead to fatal complications.