The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have declared May National Hepatitis Awareness Month. Many people believe hepatitis is a single disease. In fact, hepatitis refers to any inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis can be caused by liver trauma, alcohol or drug abuse, toxins in the environment, the body’s own autoimmune response, fat in the liver, bacteria, and viruses. Some viruses that cause hepatitis are the Epstein-Barr virus that causes mono and the varicella virus that causes chicken pox. However, most cases of hepatitis are caused by a group of viruses known as the hepatitis viruses. These include hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. Each virus is unique, but each causes swelling of the liver.
Hepatitis A (HAV) is considered the least dangerous form of hepatitis. The disease is usually contracted by eating feces-contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. It is spread through the improper handling of food and through contact with others.
Those at high risk for HAV include soldiers, tourists, international aid workers, those who practice anal sex or oral-anal sex, intravenous drug users, those who have contact with sewage, daycare workers, children in daycare centers, employees and patients in nursing homes and other residential health care facilities, scientists and others who work with apes and monkeys, hurricane survivors, and anyone who lives in crowded conditions with poor sanitation.
Hepatitis A usually resolves on its own, but about 15% of those who contract HAV become so ill that they require hospitalization. Approximately 100 patients a year require a liver transplant as a result of liver failure due to HAV.
Hepatitis B (HBV) is spread through blood, semen, and other bodily fluids. While HBV is considered a sexually transmitted disease, HBV can also be spread through the sharing of needles, accidental needle sticks, and blood transfusions. Pregnant mothers can pass the disease to their infants.
Most adults with hepatitis B recover completely. However, a small percentage will become carriers. Although carriers are symptom free, they can still transmit the disease to others.
Some adults are not able to fight the HBV virus. These patients will develop chronic hepatitis B. HBV is the most common cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Hepatitis C is spread through contact with blood. Those at risk include intravenous drug users, those with tattoos, and healthcare workers.
There are two stages of hepatitis C (HCV). Acute hepatitis C refers to the initial illness that occurs within six months of infection. Only 15 percent of those with acute HCV have symptoms. Symptoms are vague and may feel like the flu. Most people with acute HCV will develop a chronic hepatitis C infection. Chronic liver inflammation can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver failure, and possibly death.
Hepatitis D (HDV) occurs only in those already infected with hepatitis B. Like HBV, HDV is spread through bodily fluids. The HDV virus amplifies the symptoms of HBV. It is especially dangerous because both viruses are acting on the body.
Hepatitis E is rare in the United States. It occurs mainly in Asia, Mexico, India, and Africa and is spread through fecal contamination. It is more dangerous than hepatitis A, but does not lead to chronic infection.
Only those who suffer from chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Learn more about applying for SSDI in Boston disability attorney John Keefe’s book, Unlocking the Mystery: The Essential Guide for Navigating the Social Security Disability Claims Process. To schedule an appointment with a Massachusetts disability advocate, contact Keefe Disability Law at 888-904-6847.