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Hepatitis

An irritation of the liver that sometimes causes permanent damage. Hepatitis may be caused by viruses, medicines, or toxins.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)

About Viral Hepatitis

Viral hepatitis is inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. Several different viruses, named the hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E viruses, cause viral hepatitis.

All of these viruses cause acute, or short-term, viral hepatitis. The hepatitis B, C, and D viruses can also cause chronic hepatitis, in which the infection is prolonged, sometimes lifelong. Chronic hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer.

Researchers are looking for other viruses that may cause hepatitis, but none have been identified with certainty. Other viruses that less often affect the liver include cytomegalovirus; Epstein-Barr virus, also called infectious mononucleosis; herpesvirus; parvovirus; and adenovirus. NIH - National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Hepatitis A immunisation in persons not previously exposed to hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a common, contagious viral disease in many low‐income countries. It is estimated that world wide, around 1.5 million people are affected each year. The hepatitis A virus is limited to man and several species of non‐human primates. It is transmitted primarily by faecal‐oral spread from person to person, or through ingestion of contaminated food or water. Since 1995, hepatitis A vaccines have been used to prevent hepatitis A in people not yet exposed to the hepatitis A virus. Only three of the included trials were considered to be at low risk of bias; that is, free from overestimation of benefits and underestimation of harm due to systemic errors. In persons not previously exposed to hepatitis A infection, hepatitis A vaccination with inactivated or live attenuated hepatitis A vaccines had a clear effect on reducing the risk of developing clinically apparent hepatitis A. The review also found that hepatitis A vaccines significantly reduce the risk of lacking protective antibodies against hepatitis A. The inactivated vaccine appears to be relatively safe. There were insufficient data to draw any conclusions on production of protective antibodies and adverse events for live attenuated vaccines.

Immunoglobulins (human serum immune gamma globulins) seem effective for prevention of hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a common, contagious viral disease in low‐income countries. Hepatitis A is transmitted primarily by faecal‐oral spread from person to person. Passive immunoprophylaxis for hepatitis A using immunoglobulin preparations were essential for prevention before development of specific hepatitis A vaccine (active immunisation). This review concludes that immunoglobulins seem effective for preventing hepatitis A in both children and adults. However, the evidence, on which the conclusion is based, is not strong as the included trials appear to have risk of bias and their number is insufficient. Because there is a potential risk of blood‐borne diseases from immunoglobulins preparations, such as human immunodeficiency virus, and because of the availability of hepatitis A vaccine, the use of immunoglobulins has become limited. However, their use is still required in some specific populations, such as persons with compromised immune function, children under one year of age, or persons who have not developed a full response to vaccine immunisation. Future clinical trials should address the benefit and harm of immunoglobulins in these populations.

Effect and safety of Yinzhihuang injection for icteric viral hepatitis: a systematic review

Bibliographic details: Chen J, Chen H Y, Liu Z C, Wu T X.  Effect and safety of Yinzhihuang injection for icteric viral hepatitis: a systematic review. Chinese Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine 2005; 5(6): 461-465

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Summaries for consumers

Hepatitis A immunisation in persons not previously exposed to hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a common, contagious viral disease in many low‐income countries. It is estimated that world wide, around 1.5 million people are affected each year. The hepatitis A virus is limited to man and several species of non‐human primates. It is transmitted primarily by faecal‐oral spread from person to person, or through ingestion of contaminated food or water. Since 1995, hepatitis A vaccines have been used to prevent hepatitis A in people not yet exposed to the hepatitis A virus. Only three of the included trials were considered to be at low risk of bias; that is, free from overestimation of benefits and underestimation of harm due to systemic errors. In persons not previously exposed to hepatitis A infection, hepatitis A vaccination with inactivated or live attenuated hepatitis A vaccines had a clear effect on reducing the risk of developing clinically apparent hepatitis A. The review also found that hepatitis A vaccines significantly reduce the risk of lacking protective antibodies against hepatitis A. The inactivated vaccine appears to be relatively safe. There were insufficient data to draw any conclusions on production of protective antibodies and adverse events for live attenuated vaccines.

Immunoglobulins (human serum immune gamma globulins) seem effective for prevention of hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a common, contagious viral disease in low‐income countries. Hepatitis A is transmitted primarily by faecal‐oral spread from person to person. Passive immunoprophylaxis for hepatitis A using immunoglobulin preparations were essential for prevention before development of specific hepatitis A vaccine (active immunisation). This review concludes that immunoglobulins seem effective for preventing hepatitis A in both children and adults. However, the evidence, on which the conclusion is based, is not strong as the included trials appear to have risk of bias and their number is insufficient. Because there is a potential risk of blood‐borne diseases from immunoglobulins preparations, such as human immunodeficiency virus, and because of the availability of hepatitis A vaccine, the use of immunoglobulins has become limited. However, their use is still required in some specific populations, such as persons with compromised immune function, children under one year of age, or persons who have not developed a full response to vaccine immunisation. Future clinical trials should address the benefit and harm of immunoglobulins in these populations.

Chronic hepatitis C: What are the advantages and disadvantages of boceprevir (Victrelis)?: People with chronic hepatitis C who have not responded to previous treatment or who have had a recurrence

This text summarizes the effects of boceprvir for people with chronic hepatitis C who have not responded to previous treatment or who have had a recurrence. IQWiG assessed trials that compared triple therapy consisting of boceprevir and the previous standard drugs peginterferon alfa and ribavirin, with dual standard therapy consisting only of peginterferon alfa and ribavirin.

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Terms to know

Cirrhosis
Scarring and permanent injury to the liver, usually the result of chronic, long term damage.
Liver
The largest abdominal organ. The liver carries out many important functions, such as making important blood proteins and bile, changing food into energy, and cleaning alcohol and poisons from the blood.
Liver Cancer
Primary liver cancer is cancer that forms in the tissues of the liver. Secondary liver cancer is cancer that spreads to the liver from another part of the body.
Liver Function Tests (Liver Panels)
Blood tests that can show elevated levels of liver enzymes, which may indicate problems in the liver or biliary tract. Also called liver enzyme tests.
Viral Infections
A general term for diseases produced by viruses.
Viruses
In medicine, a very simple microorganism that infects cells and may cause disease. Because viruses can multiply only inside infected cells, they are not considered to be alive.

More about Hepatitis

Photo of an adult

See Also: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis D, Hepatitis E, Chronic Hepatitis, Autoimmune Hepatitis, Steatohepatitis, Granulomatous Hepatitis

Other terms to know: See all 6
Cirrhosis, Liver, Liver Cancer

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