Hepatitis is the general name given to a group of viruses which cause inflammation and swelling of the liver.
The name, "Hepatitis", although now commonly applied to the various strains and subtypes of virus, actually means "inflammation or swelling of the liver".
There are several strains of virus which cause hepatitis, the most commonly occurring ones being;
- Hepatitis A Virus (HAV)
- Hepatitis B Virus (HBV)
- Hepatitis C Virus (HCV).
People who have the hepatitis virus may not show any signs or symptoms of infection at all or the disease may develop over a period of weeks or months.
There is no cure for hepatitis although you can be vaccinated against Hep A and Hep B.
For those who have chronic Hep B or Hep C, treatment in the form of antiviral drugs may still be available although it is not always successful.
At particular risk for all hepatitis infections is anyone who uses street drugs since concealment of drugs within the mouth, vagina or rectum at some stage during their transportation to the end user is not an uncommon practice.
Also at high risk of contracting hepatitis are injecting drug users, men who have sex with men, or travelers to areas of the world where hepatitis is widespread.
Additionally, the families of anyone who is infected with one of the more common strains of hepatitis, ie, Hep A, Hep B or Hep C, are at risk of contracting the virus through indirect contact.
This risk may be reduced by adhering to scrupulous hygiene practices such as hand washing after every visit to the toilet, separate towels and thorough cleaning of baths and bathroom after use.
Sex with a partner who has or who carries hepatitis may result in you contracting the virus.
The risk can be reduced by using a condom, however, it must be remembered that hepatitis is often present in body fluids such as saliva, sperm and vaginal secretions, as well as around the area of the rectum and as such, activities such as oral sex or in some cases, kissing, may lead to contracting the virus.