The ABCs of Hepatitis

The word "hepatitis" tends to always be accompanied by a letter... "hepatitis A."
"hepatitis B," and it goes all the way up to E. These letters represent the
different viruses that cause viral hepatitis. Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E all
have different symptoms and modes of transmission. They are spread in different
ways and require different means of control, but all forms of hepatitis have
one thing in common: inflammation of the liver.

Each of the above-mentioned viruses causes acute, or short-term, viral
hepatitis. The important difference is that B and C can also cause chronic
hepatitis, a prolonged, potentially lifelong infection.


First, here's a look at the less harmful hepatitis A. This disease is often
mild, lasting a week or two. In more severe cases it can last several months.
Symptoms include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain,
dark urine, and yellowing of the skin and eyeballs (jaundice). Not everyone who
carries the virus will exhibit symptoms, however. Hepatitis A does not cause
long-term damage and is usually not fatal. Hepatitis A is caused by putting
something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the feces of a person
with hepatitis A. The spread of the disease is often associated with unsanitary
conditions or poor personal hygiene, but may also result from drinking
contaminated water, eating undercooked shellfish harvested from contaminated
water, eating contaminated fruits and vegetables (which may have been handled
by an infected person) or through oral and anal sexual activity.

In the workplace, there is a low risk of hepatitis A infection if healthcare
workers follow standard infection control procedures. However according to a
recent report sewage workers may be at increased risk during community


Hepatitis B is a more serious disease. It occurs when the virus is able to
enter the blood stream and reach the liver. In the more severe cases it can
cause continuous liver disease, which can progress to cirrhosis and possibly
liver cancer. There is no known cure for hepatitis B.

The major source of hepatitis B infection is infected blood, which makes it a
considerable risk in some workplace settings. Workers who have direct contact
with infected blood can contract hepatitis B if their skin is punctured with
blood-contaminated needles. They may also be at risk if an infected fluid or
blood splashes onto skin that has a cut, scratch, or other irritation, or into
the mouth, nose, or eyes. Hepatitis B is found in semen, vaginal secretions,
and breast milk and can be transmitted during unprotected sexual intercourse,
and from mother to infant during birth and through breast-feeding. Hepatitis B
is not transmitted by casual contact.

Hepatitis B is a risk to health-care workers, dentists, dental assistants, and
dental hygienists, people who work with the developmentally handicapped or with
aggressive, biting residents. Embalmers may also be at risk.


Hepatitis C, another potentially serious disease transmitted primarily by
exposure to blood, occurs only if the virus is able to enter the blood stream
and reach the liver. About half of all people who develop hepatitis C never
fully recover, and some may develop cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure.

People infected with hepatitis C may experience fever, nausea and vomiting,
loss of appetite, stomach pain, extreme fatigue, and jaundice. Some will have
no symptoms - and can infect others without knowing it - but might become ill
in the future, even 10 years after becoming infected.

Occupations where workers are exposed to human blood or blood products carry
the biggest risk of hepatitis C infection.

Preventing Hepatitis

Good hygiene and sanitation are key to preventing hepatitis A. Workers should
frequently wash their hands, particularly after using the washroom, and before
they eat, drink or smoke. Nail biting should be avoided.

To prevent hepatitis B and C and other blood-borne diseases, workers should use
what Health Canada and the US Department of Health and Human Services call
"universal precautions." These include engineering controls, such as
puncture-resistant containers for disposing of used sharps; safe work
practices; and personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and aprons
to suit the task.

Workers can be immunized against hepatitis B, but no vaccine exists for
hepatitis C. The best line of defence against hepatitis C is infection control
precautions as described above. Originally developed for hospitals, these
"universal precautions" can be used in any workplace where workers risk being
exposed to blood or other body fluids, such as semen, vaginal secretions, or
amniotic fluid.

Where there is a risk of hepatitis B or C, personal protective equipment
provides some extra protection against blood and certain body fluids.

Further Information

AplusA-online.de - Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety