Hepatitis A and B are caused by virus infection of the liver. The virus breeds in waste matter from the bowel and is common where there is poor sanitation. It is passed in contaminated food and drinks; less usually, by sexual contact; more rarely, by transfusions of infected blood. Hepatitis is on the increase, probably due to more foreign travel. When visiting areas with poor sanitation, observe strict personal hygiene. Drink bottled water, eschew ice cubes. Avoid anal and oral sexual contact.
The symptoms of both A and B are the same: fever, nausea, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, and chills. Jaundice shows as a yellow tinge to the skin, fingernails, and whites of the eyes about a week later. Urine can be dark in colour; stools almost whitish. A few people are asymptomatic. With hepatitis A, the symptoms are mild. The defence system builds immunity to the virus, but it remains in the blood and can be transmitted.
The hepatitis B virus (HBV) produces severe symptoms, which start suddenly 1 to 6 months after contact. If liver damage is extensive, death occurs in 5 to 20 per cent of cases. The B virus is transmitted in blood and blood products during sexual contact: semen, vagina secretions, saliva, and faeces are suspect. It is also passed by IV drug users sharing infected needles. The incidence of HBV is rising rapidly, perhaps due to more foreign travel and IV drug use. Male homosexuals, heterosexuals with multiple partners, travellers, and drug addicts are high-risk groups.