in American Indians is often, but not always, a side affect of alcohol/drug
abuse. Too many of our people have been diagnosed with alcohol induced
Many cases of hepatitis go undiagnosed because the disease is
mistaken for the flu or because there are no symptoms at all. The most common
symptoms of hepatitis are:
- Loss of appetite.
- Mild fever.
- Muscle or joint aches.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Abdominal pain.
Less common symptoms include:
- Dark urine.
- Light-colored stools.
- Jaundice or yellowing of skin and/or eyes
- Generalized itching.
- Altered mental state, stupor or coma.
Although their effects on the liver and the symptoms they produce
can be similar, the various forms of hepatitis are contracted in different ways.
In the case of viral hepatitis, the severity and duration of the disease are
largely determined by the organism that caused it.
Hepatitis A, which is generally contracted orally through fecal
contamination of food or water, is considered the least dangerous form of the
disease because it does not lead to chronic inflammation of the liver. The
hepatitis A virus commonly spreads through improper handling of food, contact
with household members, sharing toys at day-care centers, and eating raw
shellfish taken from polluted waters.
- Persons who may be exposed to the hepatitis A virus
repeatedly due to a high rate of hepatitis A disease, such as Alaskan Natives
and Native Americans.
- Persons engaging in high-risk sexual activity, such as
homosexual and bisexual males.
- Persons who use illegal injectable drugs.
- Military personnel
- Persons living in a community experiencing an outbreak of
- Persons working in facilities for the mentally retarded.
- Employees of child day-care centers.
- Persons who work with hepatitis A virus in the laboratory.
- Persons who handle primate animals.
- Persons with hemophilia.
- Food handlers.
- Persons with chronic liver disease.
Hepatitis B, the most widespread of the hepatitis viruses, infects an
estimated 300,000 people every year in the United States alone. The virus can
pass from mother to child at birth or soon afterward; the disease organism can
also travel between adults and children to infect whole families. Hepatitis B
can also spread through sexual contact, blood transfusions and needle-sharing by
intravenous-drug users. In a third of all hepatitis B cases the source cannot be
The majority of hepatitis B patients recover completely, but a
small percentage of them can't shake the disease and may develop chronic
hepatitis and possibly cirrhosis. People with chronic hepatitis become carriers,
meaning they can transmit the disease to others even when their own symptoms
have vanished. About 25 percent of chronic hepatitis B patients die prematurely
from the disease as a result of cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Hepatitis C is usually spread through contact with blood or contaminated
needles. Although hepatitis C may cause only mild symptoms or none at all, 20
percent to 30 percent of chronic carriers develop cirrhosis within 20 years. the
disease can be passed on through blood transfusions, but a recently developed
test has greatly reduced the number of such cases. In a third of all hepatitis C
cases, the source of the disease is unknown.
Hepatitis D occurs only in people infected with hepatitis B and tends to
magnify the severity of that disease. It can be transmitted from mother to child
and through sexual contact. Rarest among the five hepatitis viruses, hepatitis D
is also the most dangerous because it involves two forms of the disease working
Alcoholic, toxic and drug-related hepatitis can produce the same
symptoms and liver inflammation that result from viral hepatitis. This form is
caused not by invading microorganisms but by excessive and chronic consumption
of alcohol ingestion of environmental toxins, or misuse of certain prescription
drugs and over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen.
Because the liver plays a key role in processing drugs, alcohol
and toxins in the bloodstream, a patient with hepatitis may find that some
medications, alcoholic beverages and herbs that are normally tolerated can
aggravate the condition. If you have hepatitis, do not attempt to treat the
disease on your own; consult a physician or licensed practitioner. Avoid
alcoholic beverages and ask your doctor if it is all right to use birth-control
pills, antibiotics or over-the-counter medicines. Be sure to tell your physician
or practitioner all the medications that you are taking, including even
seemingly innocuous over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin or acetaminophen.
Source: American Liver Association
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