Hepatitis, simply put, is an inflammation of the liver which can be both acute and chronic. Strains identified are A, B, C, D, E, autoimmune, and alcoholic, with strain B and C leading to what we know as the more chronic conditions. Hepatitis A and E are acute and spread through the fecal-oral route, commonly through the ingestion of contaminated water or food products grown and fed by the contaminated water source. These strains do not generally lead to chronic conditions.
Hepatitis B and C are chronic, and over time cause significant damage to the liver. Hepatitis C, in particular, usually results in intractable damage, often leading to early mortality even with a life prolonging liver transplant. Hepatitis D can be thought of as a co-infection as it does not occur without the presence of Hepatitis B. Both strains B and C are spread through body fluids, in activities such as sexual intercourse, sharing needles in drug use, or coming in contact with the bodily fluids contaminated by the viruses without the use of standard universal precautions.
Autoimmune hepatitis is a condition in which the person’s immune system attacks the liver. There has been some ambiguous link with previous viral infections but the cause for this type of hepatitis is widely unknown and will generally resolve with medical support. Alcoholic hepatitis is caused, as the name implies, by the excessive use of alcohol. All hepatitis forms present with similar flu-like symptoms, joint pain, and general malaise. It is not uncommon for there to be no symptoms at all in the early phase. Symptoms will generally progress to the more common presentation of jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, abdominal pain, and, later, itching skin. Should any of these symptoms present, medical attention should be sought at once.