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What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver or liver injury caused by a viral infection, a toxin (a harmful chemical substance), or a disorder of the immune system. There are various different viruses which cause hepatitis, which have been simply named Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis D and so on..

The three most common forms of hepatitis are A, B and C. These are all different infections which cause similar symptoms if you become infected with them.

When hepatitis does cause symptoms, they may be flu like: feeling generally tired or "ill," fever, muscle aches, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

As hepatitis progresses, the symptoms begin to point to the liver as the site of inflammation. Chemicals (such as bilirubin) normally produced by the liver begin to build up in the blood. This may result in jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, as well as bad breath with a bitter taste in the mouth. The urine may turn dark or "tea-colored," while stools become white, light, or "clay-colored." There can also be abdominal pain, which is usually located on the right side, below the ribs (over a tender, swollen liver).

Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV), which is classified as an enterovirus and is present in the stool or shit of infected individuals. A person can become infected with HAV by transferring the virus from stool-contaminated hands to the mouth. This explains why it is easy for HAV to spread in overcrowded, unsanitary living conditions. HAV also spreads in contaminated water and food (especially shellfish).

Hepatitis A is usually a mild infection, particularly in young children, although it can be more severe in adults who may have liver damage from using alcohol.

Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B, also called "serum hepatitis," is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). HBV is found in certain infected body fluids: blood, saliva, semen, tears, breast milk, and urine. Infections may result from having a blood transfusion contaminated with HBV, sharing contaminated needles or syringes for injecting drugs, or engaging in sexual activity with an HBV-infected person.

HBV-infected mothers can pass the virus to their babies prior to or during delivery or through breast-feeding (although an HBV-infected mother can safely breast-feed if her newborn receives protective treatment at birth).

Hepatitis C
This virus was originally called non-A, non-B hepatitis and was isolated and identified in 1988. Hepatitis C virus is an RNA virus which is particularly small, virulent, and resilient. Hepatitis C is very common amongst people who inject drugs with around 70% of ex-users, and 50% of current users in NZ already infected.

It is estimated that more than 30,000 New Zealander's have Hepatitis C. Mostly from sharing injection equipment. There is currently no completely effective treatment for this disease.

Unlike Hepatitis A & B, hepatitis C attacks the liver slowly over a much longer timeframe and most people infected will experience no symptoms for many years from the time of infection. However during this time they remain carriers of the disease and are able to infect others. Hepatitis C is almost always spread by blood to blood contact such as sharing needles and syringes, or by blood transfusion, although no new infections by this method have been reported since testing of donated blood began in 1992.

Testing for Hepatitis C is a simple antibody blood test and is available from your doctor or local sexual health clinics. Testing is free and Confidential.

Hepatitis C is an extremely infectious disease and can readily be transmitted in any situation where blood is released from the body such as tattooing, body piercing, dental work and some medical procedures.

In terms of mother and baby, the virus does not cross the placenta and enter a child's body before birth, however there is significant risk of infection at the time of birth particularly if a caesarean section is needed.

Hepatitis C virus is difficult to kill, it appears to be heat resistant and cannot be killed by boiling. It can exist for up to 30 days outside the body and does not appear to be killed by chemicals like bleach or isopropyl alcohol.

For this reason bleaching or boiling used needles and syringes will not kill this virus. The only way to avoid infection is to use a new fit every time you inject and not to share fits between users.

More Information
For more information about Hepatitis C CLICK HERE