Infectious hepatitis can refer to several different types of viral infection that cause inflammation and swelling of the liver. The most common hepatitis viruses that affect humans are termed A, B, C, and D. Hepatitis A is considered an acute infection, while the other types of hepatitis can lead to chronic health problems. Doctors usually recommend rest to overcome hepatitis A and prescribe antiviral medications to suppress the long-term symptoms of chronic infections.
Hepatitis A can be contracted after coming into contact with infected blood or stools. Most people get the disease after consuming unwashed food or drinking water that is contaminated with sewage. Symptoms of fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, and dark urine emerge two to six weeks after contracting the virus. As liver irritation worsens and functioning decreases, the skin and eyes may turn yellow in a condition known as jaundice. Patients who are diagnosed with hepatitis A typically recover in three to six months by avoiding intense physical activity and eating healthy foods.
Other forms of infectious hepatitis are usually contracted through blood. Hepatitis B and C are common in people who share needles to inject themselves with illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. The viruses can also be contracted through a blood transfusion or accidental exposure to an infected person's blood in a health care setting. A hepatitis D infection is also passed through blood, though it only causes symptoms if an individual is already suffering from hepatitis B.
People with chronic forms of infectious hepatitis tend to experience the same initial symptoms that are common with hepatitis A. Symptoms may emerge within a month of infection, or take up to six months or longer to appear. If the condition remains untreated, a person with hepatitis B, C or D is at risk of developing severe liver disease, tissue scarring, and cancer. Chronic forms of infectious hepatitis cannot be cured, though careful management can reduce symptoms and lessen the likelihood of severe medical complications.
Doctors can diagnose chronic infectious hepatitis by analyzing physical symptoms and collecting blood samples for laboratory analysis. Patients are usually prescribed antiviral medications that reduce symptoms and promote proper liver functioning. A person may also be placed on a low-protein diet and ordered to abstain from alcohol to help take strain off of his or her liver. If the condition leads to liver disease or cancer, a liver transplant may be necessary to save the patient's life. By following doctors' suggestions and attending regular checkups, most people diagnosed with infectious hepatitis are able to lead normal, active lives.