Mandan News

Five hepatitis viruses all affect liver

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that is usually caused by a group of infections. There are five hepatitis viruses, known as A, B, C, D and E. All these interfere with the liver’s ability to function properly. When the liver is inflamed, it doesn’t do a good job of getting rid of waste products. Depending on the type and severity of hepatitis, this buildup of waste products can cause jaundice, itching, nausea, fever and body aches. Chronic hepatitis can develop into cirrhosis of the liver, which can be fatal. Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common.

Is hepatitis increasing in North Dakota?

Hepatitis C has been in North Dakota news reports lately because the North Dakota Department of Health is investigating an outbreak in Ward County. North Dakota law mandates that hepatitis outbreaks be reported to the Department of Health. People with Hepatitis C are most contagious soon after being infected when they are not likely to have any symptoms. Because hepatitis spreads from exposure to infected persons, it’s a serious health concern.

How does Hepatitis C spread?

Hepatitis C can be spread only through direct exposure to blood or blood products from an infected person. Most commonly, people who are infected are drug users sharing needles or health care workers or those in other occupations where it is possible to be accidentally stuck with a needle or something sharp that was used on an infected patient. More rarely, Hepatitis C has been transmitted by non-sterile needles used in tattooing and body piercings, through sex and through sharing personal items such as toothbrushes and razors. Many times, the cause is never determined. Hepatitis C cannot be spread through casual contact such as sneezing, kissing, shaking hands, sharing eating utensils or using public places like restrooms.

What are Hepatitis C symptoms?

Symptoms can appear six weeks to six months after exposure. About 80 percent of people infected with HCV have mild or no signs or symptoms initially and some people never have any symptoms. Those who do may notice fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort, vomiting, dark urine and/or jaundice. Hepatitis C does not go away on its own, so treatment is important.

What is the treatment for Hepatitis C?

Make an appointment with your primary care doctor if you have any symptoms, particularly if you know you have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer so it’s important not to ignore symptoms. You are also more susceptible to acquiring hepatitis A or B if you have the hepatitis C virus. The standard treatment method is a combination of antiviral medicines.

(Dr. Terry Wolf is a family medicine physician at Sanford East Mandan Clinic. He completed a medical degree at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine and a residency and internship at Sparrow Hospital Family Practice, all in Lansing, Mich.)