Hepatitis is a collective name for a number of similar looking inflammatory diseases of the liver. Inflammation of the liver is very dangerous, because the liver has many functions. One in twenty people has suffered from hepatitis once and in the majority of cases, this inflammation is caused by a virus.


When hepatitis is caused by a virus infection, this is called viral hepatitis. The most common types of these are hepatitis A and B. Viral hepatitis is contagious. Hepatitis can also result from exposure to certain chemicals, use of certain types of medication or excessive alcohol consumption.


The signs and symptoms are dependent on the type of hepatitis. Fatigue, sometimes fever, lack of appetite and dark colored urine are common. The liver can become enlarged and the patient can have jaundice (a yellow appearance of the skin). Hepatitis can be acute or chronic. The acute form diminishes after about two months. Chronic hepatitis can eventually lead to liver cirrhosis and liver damage. The following types of hepatitis can occur:


When the doctor suspects hepatitis, blood tests will be performed. The liver function is determined and there will be an attempt to identify the cause. If diagnosing doesn’t succeed, an ultrasound may be performed and sometimes a liver biopsy. A piece of liver is then removed and examined under the microscope.


There is usually no treatment for acute hepatitis. Rest will be advised. If alcohol abuse is the cause, then the patient will be advised to completely avoid alcohol consumption.
Since a few years there is a drug that is effective against the hepatitis C virus. This drug, an antiviral agent, is called alpha interferon. This is a natural protein that is produced by the immune system of our body.
Preventive vaccination for hepatitis A (two injections) offers a minimum of fifteen years of protection. The administration of immunoglobulin against hepatitis A offers a protection of a few months and is given only in exceptional cases. Vaccination for hepatitis B protects almost everyone. For hepatitis E, no vaccine is available yet.


Approximately seventy-five percent of people with hepatitis C and five percent of people with hepatitis B or D, will be dealing with chronic hepatitis. If acute hepatitis is not caused by a virus but by another micro-organism, the patient will usually heal completely. If the hepatitis is caused by alcohol, drugs or other harmful substances, recovery will depend on the degree of damage to the liver. If hepatitis leads to liver failure, a liver transplant may be needed. This is fortunately rare.