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How Do I Know if I Have Hepatitis?

June 28, 2024
How Do I Know if I Have Hepatitis?
June 28, 2024

On World Hepatitis Day 2023 the UK government announced its ambitious goal to eliminate hepatitis C, one of five types of hepatitis – a serious liver condition. This particular type is often spread through infected needles but can be easily tested for and treated if caught early.

Almost a year later, as we once again raise awareness for hepatitis, health experts are sharing some positive news.

After successfully campaigning to find, test and treat everyone who has hepatitis C; including people who were part of the infected blood scandal, things are moving in the right direction.

New data published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows a huge decrease in the number of people living with chronic hepatitis C (HCV) in England. 

The data shows cases have halved (51.6%) dropping from 129,400 in 2015 to 62,600 estimated cases in 2022. The same data also shows that deaths due to the hepatitis C virus are at their lowest level in 10 years.

However, in order to eliminate it completely and raise awareness for all types the public need to know which hepatitis symptoms to look out for and, importantly, get tested and then treated to stop the spread.

‘These latest figures are really promising but more can be done to stop the spread of what is in many cases a preventable disease thanks to a safe and effective immunisation programme as well as travel vaccinations available for protection abroad where some types of the disease are more common,’ says ZoomDoc Chief Medical Officer and GP, Dr Kenny Livingstone.

As we mark annual World Hepatitis Day this summer (28th July), make sure you’re aware of the causes, symptoms and treatment for this complex disease. Plus, how to test yourself for hepatitis from the privacy of your own home.

What Causes Hepatitis?

 

Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver. It’s usually the result of a viral infection, overdependcany on drugs or liver damage caused by drinking alcohol.

Generally speaking, hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. It is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection but can also be picked up in other non-infectious ways.

For example, hepatitis can be caused by:

  • liver damage by drinking alcohol
  • long-term or overuse of certain medication – causing toxins to build up and affect your liver
  • autoimmune response – where the immune system attacks the liver.

You are also more ‘at risk’ of hepatitis if you:

  • have not had routine childhood vaccinations (hep B is included in the 6-in-1 vaccination given at 8, 12 and 16 weeks) as a preventative measure
  • practise unprotected sex
  • inject drugs using shared needles
  • share razors, toothbrushes and bodily fluids with someone infected
  • work in healthcare and come into contact with infected blood
  • travel to a country where it is more common, such as parts of Africa, Asia, South America, without necessary vaccinations.

If you are vaccine exempt and can’t have the hepatitis A vaccine, don’t travel without a valid Vaccine Exemption Letter to explain your situation.

How Does Hepatitis Spread?

 

Hepatitis spreads by eating contaminated food, drinking contaminated water and sharing needles to take drugs.

Viral hepatitis mainly spreads through:

  • contaminated food or water – common in countries with poor sanitation and hygiene
  • bodily fluids – blood, saliva, semen

However, it can also spread because someone who has it can be totally unaware they are infected, explains Dr Kenny.

‘Many people who have hepatitis have no idea because the viruses can be symptomless. So not only are they not getting treated, they are also spreading it to others without realising,’ he says.

That’s where ZoomDoc can help.

‘Our routine sexual health test provides a comprehensive analysis of the most common sexually transmitted infections, including hepatitis B and C. You can do it in the privacy of your own home to help diagnose or rule out a number of diseases that are both easy to spread yet treatable, once you know you have them,’ says Dr Kenny.

Worried about hepatitis? Get a discreet STD test delivered straight to your home with free delivery.

Watch ZoomDoc GP, Dr Leah Austin show you how to do your test

What are the Symptoms of Hepatitis?

 

There are several different types of hepatitis. Some types will pass without any serious problems, while others can be long-lasting and chronic scarring of the liver.

 

Symptoms can depend on what type of hepatitis you have and what has caused it. It can be short-lived or longer-term and chronic.

Early symptoms of hepatitis may include:

  • muscle and joint pain
  • a high temperature
  • a general sense of feeling unwell
  • tummy pain.

If hepatitis goes on to affect your liver you may also experience a number of liver damage symptoms, such as:

  • sickness and nausea
  • feeling unusually tired all the time
  • itchy skin
  • loss of appetite – which may lead to weight loss
  • loss of sex drive (libido)
  • yellow skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • dark urine
  • pale, grey-coloured poo. (Source: NHS)

Always see your GP if you suspect your symptoms or lifestyle may have put you at risk of hepatitis.

Remember you can speak to a doctor at a time that suits you via the ZoomDoc app. Simply download it and book your appointment with a UK-trained doctor, from just £35.

What are the 5 Types of Hepatitis?

Symptoms and treatment for hepatitis depends on what type of hepatitis you have, either:

  1. Hepatitis A
  2. Hepatitis B
  3. Hepatitis C
  4. Hepatitis D
  5. Hepatitis E

Each type of hepatitis causes liver problems but because they are triggered by different things will require treatment specific to the type.

Keep reading to find out more about each of the 5 forms of hepatitis.

1. Hepatitis A

‘Hep A’ is more common in other parts of the world. It is spread via contaminated food, water or by getting too close to someone with it.

If you’re travelling to parts of Africa, Asia, South or Central America or eastern Europe it is a good idea to get vaccinated against it.

Although this type can clear up on its own – ‘usually within 3-6 months’, says NHS information, you may need to see a doctor if symptoms are making you feel unwell or particularly itchy.

Treatment for hepatitis A may include:

  • avoiding contact with others while you’re infectious (7 days after symptoms start)
  • taking a lower dose of painkillers (to protect your liver from further damage)
  • washing hands well
  • having further blood tests – liver function tests – to check your liver.

2. Hepatitis B

 

Hepatitis B is a liver infection that is spread through blood, semen and vaginal fluids. The chance of getting it in the UK is low.

 

‘Hep B’ is caused by a virus and can be easily spread via unprotected sex and shared needles.

However, it is easily preventable in the UK thanks to a successful immunisation programme. Hepatitis B is included in the 6-in-1 vaccination given three times to babies.

Check if your child is up to date with their vaccines

Treatment for hepatitis B may include:

  • antiviral medication and medicines to relieve symptoms, such as itchiness, pain and sickness
  • liver function tests.

3. Hepatitis C

The most serious type, hepatitis C can cause life-threatening damage to the liver.

It rarely has any symptoms until the virus has become chronic and complications such as liver cirrhosis, liver failure or even liver cancer are possible.

It is most commonly caught and shared by drug users or former drug users. It was also spread via the infected blood scandal – where thousands of people in the UK were given contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s. Compensation is now being given.

NHS guidance says to ‘seek medical advice if you have persistent symptoms of hepatitis C or there’s a risk you’re infected, even if you do not have any symptoms.’

It also advises to take a finger prick blood test to confirm if you have hepatitis C.

This test will detect both hep B and C in one simple test.

Treatment for hepatitis C may include:

  • antiviral medication – either weekly injections or tablet-only medication (sofosbuvir and daclatasvir) – relatively new this can cure 90% of cases (source: NHS)
  • liver transplant – in severe cases.

 4. Hepatitis D

Caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV) is rare (source: WHO) and only affects people already carrying the hepatitis B virus. Together they can go on and cause severe liver disease.

Although there is no specific vaccine, the hep B vaccine can protect against hepatitis D as well.

Treatment for hepatitis D may include:

  • pegylated interferon alpha – powerful antivirals to fight a superinfection of both hepatitis B and D.

 

5. Hepatitis E from Food Sources

 

Hepatitis E – Consumption of uncooked/undercooked meat or organs from infected animals can lead to foodborne transmission to humans

 

This particular type is mostly associated with food poisoning. The virus that causes it (hepatitis E) can be found in raw or undercooked meat as well as in game meats (venison, wild boar) and shellfish.

The easiest way to prevent getting it is to make sure food is piping hot before eating it – especially in countries with poor hygiene.

It rarely requires treatment but if you do notice any symptoms of liver damage, see your doctor.

Other Types of Hepatitis

You may also hear of:

  • Alcoholic hepatitis – caused by excessive alcohol intake but damage can be reversed by quitting alcohol.
  • Autoimmune hepatitis – where the immune system attacks the liver. Requires steroid treatment.

What to Do if You Test Positive for Hepatitis

If you test positive for hepatitis you’ll need to see your doctor if you’re feeling unwell or symptoms are affecting you.

Hepatitis B and C can cause complications such as:

  • chronic liver disease
  • cirrhosis
  • liver cancer
  • liver failure.

Depending on what type and which strain of hepatitis you have you may need a referral to see a liver specialist for further tests and treatment, which will probably include antiviral medication.

Make this quick and easy with a private GP referral – simply order it online, there’s no need to see your doctor saving you time that can be spent making that specialist appointment instead.

ZoomDoc provides a range of discreet home testing kits on its website. It also has more information about topical health issues on its Healthwire blog. 

Read more about conditions including:

Whooping cough – why it’s on the rise

Hay fever – has yours started yet?

Burnout – how to get help

Want to know more?

Our team of Doctors are available via the ZoomDoc App for any medical questions or queries.