Hepatitis is a liver disease that is characterized by an inflamed liver; it is of five main types namely hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. A different virus is responsible for each type and in this article; we will be focusing mainly on hepatitis E.
Before we look at hepatitis E, we need to know the importance and functions of the liver which is the target organ of the hepatitis viruses.
Functions of the Liver
The liver is the largest and the most important organ in the body which has many important life-supporting functions; it is located in the right upper area of the abdomen and unlike the other organs of the body that comes in pair, the liver is just one.
Important functions of the liver are production of bile which aids in digestion, filtering and excretion of toxins from the body, excretion of bilirubin, cholesterol, hormones and drugs, breakdown of fats, proteins and carbohydrates, activation of enzymes, production of hormones, storage of glycogen, minerals and fat soluble vitamin (A, D, E and K); synthesis of clotting factors and blood proteins like albumin.
When the liver is infected; it will be unable to carry out most of these functions and this can lead to a lot of health problems and complications in the body.
Hepatitis E is caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV); it has four different types namely Genotypes 1, 2, 3 and 4, Genotype 1 and 2 affects humans only while Genotype 3 and 4 affects several animals like pigs, deer and wild boars; Genotype 3 and 4 can infect humans occasionally and it does not cause any disease in the animals.
There are approximately 20 million people affected with this virus every year worldwide and it caused 44,000 deaths in 2015.
Symptoms of hepatitis E
The incubation period for hepatitis E virus is between two to ten weeks and infected people can start excreting the virus through their feaces few days after being infected.
Atypical signs and symptoms of hepatitis E are mild fever, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, itching without skin lessons, abdominal pain, joint pain, headache, stomach pain, weight loss, skin rash, pale stool, dark urine, jaundice (yellow colouration of the sclera and skin), fatigue, weaknesses, soreness of the muscle and a slightly enlarged and tender liver (this condition is known as hepatomegaly).
In rare cases, severe acute Hepatitis E can lead to fulminant hepatitis which is an acute failure of the liver; this puts the patient at a risk of dying, pregnant women with hepatitis E are more prone to fulminant hepatitis because it occurs frequently with hepatitis E during pregnancy.
Pregnant women especially those in the second and third trimester that are infected with hepatitis E have an increased risk of fulminant hepatitis, acute liver failure, fetal loss and death.
This infection is found worldwide but it has the highest prevalence in East and South Asia; a vaccine was developed for it in China bit it is not yet available worldwide.
How Hepatitis E is contracted and spread
One can get infected with the HEV when they take in food and water that has been contaminated by the virus; the virus enters the bloodstream through the intestine and from there it goes straight to the liver where it causes a lot of problems.
The virus is shed in the stools of infected people from there it can contaminate water or food. It can also be gotten through ingestion of undercooked meat or shellfish, transfusion of blood infection with the virus and it can be transmitted from mother to child vertically.
It is also reported that domestic animals act as a reservoir for this virus; they have been found in the small intestine, lymph nodes. Colon and liver of infected pigs; small mammals like the lesser bandicoot rats, the black rats and the Asian house shrew are also hosts of this virus. A new virus termed ‘rat hepatitis E virus’ have also been isolated, there is also ‘rabbit hepatitis E’ virus.
Hepatitis E is usually acute, self-limiting and resolves within 2 to 6 weeks. Occasionally, hepatitis E leads to a rare form of hepatitis called ‘fulminant hepatitis’ which is an acute failure of the liver and a good number of people infected with hepatitis E may die.
How is hepatitis E diagnosed?
Hepatitis E is not clinically distinguishable from other types of acute viral hepatitis especially hepatitis A but blood tests are carried out to check for the presence of specific lgM antibodies to the virus in a patient’s blood sample.
Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) is another test that is used to detect the presence of HEV in the blood or stool of a patient. A test that can detect the presence of hepatitis virus in the serum has already been developed.
How is Hepatitis E treated?
Hepatitis E has no specific treatment yet; as it is a short course illness and can be overcome by the body, hospitalization is not needed except patients with fulminant hepatitis and pregnant women infected with the virus; in this case the pregnant woman is hospitalized immediately so that proper medical attention, treatment and care can be given.
Antiviral drugs like ribavirin and interferon are given to patients with suppressed or compromised immune system but it has to be done under the supervision of a medical doctor because they may be successful in some cases and may not be successful in some.
Health complications caused by hepatitis E
Although hepatitis E is acute (that is; it occurs for a short period of time, it does not last for more than a month) and goes away on its own; it can become chronic in people with suppressed, weakened or compromised immune systems and this can lead to health complications like:
- Cirrhosis or scarring of the liver
- Liver failure
- Acute pancreatitis
- Bleeding disorder due to low amount of blood platelets
- Hemolytic anemia
- Acute weakness in the limbs
- Arm and shoulder weakness
- Kidney problems and
- Cryoglobulinemia (which is a medical condition where antibodies in the bloodstream inappropriately react at low temperatures).
Prevention of Hepatitis E
- Good hygiene should be employed by everyone especially regular washing of hands.
- Wash your hands before eating and after using the toilet.
- Wash your hands after changing a baby’s diaper or after handling raw farm produce.
- Sewage and toilets should be located far from local rivers and other water sources to prevent water contamination and people should be discouraged and fined for excreting close to a river.
- Human feces should be properly disposed.
- Train kids not to pick any object and put it in their mouth.
- All meats should be well cooked before eating.
- Avoid eating raw or uncooked meat and shellfish.
- Avoid drinking any water or consuming any ice that you are not sure of the source or its neatness
- Avoid eating unwashed and uncooked fruits and vegetables and it will be better if you prepare them yourself.
- Avoid eating public foods or in public restaurants that you are not sure of their hygiene procedures.
- Avoid traveling to areas with high occurrence of hepatitis E.
- The home and environment should be properly clean so that rats which are hosts of this virus will not be welcomed.
- Public food and water should have high standards of cleanliness and chefs should wash their hands before cooking.
Natural Remedies for Hepatitis E
Quality rest and sleep
Quality rest and sleep coupled with avoidance or reduction of stress will help the immune system fight off the virus; it will also help the patient manage some of the symptoms of HEV like fatigue and constant weakness. Strenuous physical activity and hard exercises should be avoided till the patient gets well.
This is a compulsory in recovering from any hepatitis infection; good nutrition offers the body powerful phytonutrients, antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, proteins, electrolytes and antimicrobial compounds which the immune system uses to fight off the virus; it also aids quick recovery and helps the patient overcome the symptoms.
Water helps to replace fluids lost from the body through vomiting; it also helps to clear out toxins from the body and support immune functions.
Take lots of water every day; you can also take lots of fresh homemade fruit juices, smoothies, herbal teas, coconut water and if possible alkaline water; all these will empower your immune system to fight off the virus and help you to recover fast.
Homeopathic method of healing helps to control hepatitis C; their medicines are made of purely natural things and they work to the immunological level.
It keeps the disease under check and delays progression and complications; it has no side effects, homeopathic medicines have been used effectively to treat a wide range of viral infections and it is strongly recommended in the case of any type of hepatitis.
This ancient healing tradition that originated in India thousands of years ago is also good in the treatment of hepatitis; they know lots of herbs, nutrients and things to do to help one recover from this disease.
Their herbal mixtures are all natural and vegetarian, they are free from toxins, chemicals, preservatives, additives and they have no side effects.