Hepatitis is caused by a virus that attacks the liver and causes inflammation.
There are various viruses that cause different types of hepatitis (Hepatitis A, B, C, D, E and G). The most common forms are Hepatitis A, B and C.
Hepatitis often, but not always, leads to symptoms such as headaches and flu-like symptoms, tiredness, and body aches. Loss of appetite and vomiting are other possible symptoms. The skin and eye whites become jaundiced (yellow). Hepatitis C is an exception, see below. But not everyone has symptoms, which means that people can live with hepatitis without realising it. It is therefore a good idea to get tested regularly, particularly if you’ve exposed yourself to potential infection.
Most forms of hepatitis clear up by themselves, but sometimes a chronic variant of the infection can develop. People with a chronic hepatitis infection can still live a normal life, in the case of hepatitis B with antiviral medication. In the case of chronic infection, you may consider limiting your alcohol consumption, to lower the compounded strain on the liver.
Hepatitis is classified as a danger to the public health in Sweden’s Communicable Diseases Act, which means that if tests show you have hepatitis, you will have to take part in a contact tracing. In order to find others who may have gonorrhea, you’ll be asked who you’ve had sex with recently. It may feel a bit strange, but it’s a way of showing consideration for the people you’ve had sex with. It gives them an opportunity to check that they’re healthy. You can choose to notify your partners in person, but if you prefer not to, the clinic will notify them without divulging who gave their name.
If you’re named as a sexual partner of someone else who has caught hepatitis, you’ll have to go and get tested.
Hepatitis A is usually caught through food, usually in conditions where there are insufficient standards of sewage management. The virus enters the body through the mouth and is excreted from the body through the faeces, which means it can be passed on during rimming (i.e. licking arse). The infection is rare in Sweden but occurs more frequently in many other countries. Some cases of sexual transmission do occur in Sweden every year.
The virus causes an inflammation of the liver, which is then unable to break down certain substances. You may also become more sensitive to alcohol and some medications.
Hepatitis A cannot be treated. The infection does, however, often heal by itself. It is only in very rare cases that the infection can lead to cellular tissue death in the liver (liver necrosis). There is an effective vaccine that protects against the infection. Talk to the staff at your health centre, vaccination clinic or where you get tested. Once you’ve had Hepatitis A, you’re generally immune for the rest of your life, and therefore can’t catch the infection again.
Hepatitis B is spread through blood and bodily fluids. Blood transfusions and open wounds are possible routes of infection, along with sharing syringes and needles. The virus is also spread through sexual contact. You can lower the risk for Hepatitis B transmission by not sharing syringes and needles with other people, and by using a condom during different kinds of sex.
The virus causes an inflammation of the liver, which is then unable to break down certain substances. You may also become more sensitive to alcohol and some medications. The infection can also affect the body’s hormones and blood coagulation.
Hepatitis B usually heals by itself. In exceptional cases the infection can become chronic, in which case the condition is managed with antivirals. Once you’ve had Hepatitis B you’re usually immune against the infection for the rest of your life. There is an effective vaccine against Hepatitis B. If you’re a man who has sex with other men, you’re entitled to free vaccination in Sweden. In some regions, such as Stockholm, this free offer is extended to the hepatitis A vaccination as well. Ask the staff at your youth clinic or sexual health clinic about this vaccination.
Hepatitis C is spread through blood, blood transfusions and by sharing syringes and needles. In rare cases the infection can also be spread through sex. Half of those who contract the infection develop a variant which is chronic.
Since 1992 all blood aimed for transfusions in Sweden is tested for Hepatitis C. If you received a blood transfusion before then, you should get tested in case you got infected by the transfusion.
Unlike other forms of hepatitis, Hepatitis C rarely has any symptoms at all. Only a few people show symptoms in the form of jaundiced (yellowish) skin and eye whites, nausea and fatigue. As the infection is hard to detect, it’s important to get tested, especially if you think you may have caught Hep C. By getting tested regularly you can reduce the risk of passing the infection on to others.
Hepatitis C might heal by itself, but if the infection remains in the body for a long time there is a risk of a chronic form of Hepatitis C developing, which in time can cause liver damage.
The treatment that is available nowadays is far more efficient than in previous times, and almost all infections are cured with it. The side effects are also less severe, and the treatment period shorter. Nonetheless, the treatment regimen is of eight to twelve weeks, and it is very important to take the medication consistently.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, nor any immunity after a hepatitis C infection that has healed spontaneously or with treatment. For that reason, you can become infected with hepatitis C several times.