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Viral hepatitis (A, B & C)

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver, and it can be caused by a virus or other non-viral causes.  The main difference between the viruses is how they are spread and the effects they have on your health.

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Prevention

There are safe and effective vaccines that protect you from getting hepatitis A and B.  While there is no vaccine for hep C, by being ‘blood aware’ you can reduce your overall chance of being exposed to the virus.

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Living with Hepatitis

People with chronic hepatitis can do a number of things to stay healthy including limiting/avoiding alcohol, reducing stress, not smoking, getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet.

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Treatment

Effective treatment is available for both chronic hepatitis B and C.  Before you can see a liver specialist to talk about going on treatment, you need to get a referral from your GP first.

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Living with Hepatitis

People with chronic hepatitis can do a number of things to stay healthy including limiting/avoiding alcohol, reducing stress, not smoking, getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet.

Living healthy

There are a number of things people with chronic hepatitis B and/or C can do to stay healthy, including:

Disclosure and confidentiality

Some people with viral hepatitis may feel that they have an obligation to disclose their hepatitis status, however the impact of disclosure on their personal relationships and in public life, particularly when entering the healthcare sector, may have negative consequences.  In most circumstances, a persons’ decision to disclose their hepatitis status is a very personal decision of whom to tell, why, when, where, how, and so on.

When does someone with viral hepatitis have to disclose their status?

Generally speaking, people living with viral hepatitis do not have to tell anybody about their positive status, however there are four exceptions to this:

  1. Healthcare workers engaging in ‘invasive or exposure prone procedures’ (e.g. surgery or other procedures that may require a nurse, surgeon or other healthcare provider to work in the body of another person).  People performing such exposure prone procedures are required to know their status and are guided by the State Health Department Policy.  For more information, refer to the Queensland Health Infection Control Guidelines
  2. If donating blood at the blood bank (you cannot donate blood products, semen, ova or organs if you have hepatitis B or C)
  3. In the case of employment in the armed services
  4. Insurance and superannuation (in some cases)

In these four situations, people are required by law to disclose their hepatitis status.  There are no other legal requirements for people to disclose their status.

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Alcohol

Alcohol is poisonous to the liver.  If you have hepatitis B or C, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to cut out drinking or cut down as much as you can. Alcohol may increase damage to your liver and may cause liver scarring (cirrhosis) and liver cancer.  Alcohol can also make hepatitis treatment less effective and interact with other medication or illicit drugs.

If you have hepatitis B or C, the ideal is that you don’t drink any alcohol at all.  If you do drink it is important to limit the amount consumed to reduce further possible damage to your liver.

How much can I drink?

If you have hepatitis it is recommended that you drink no more than ONE standard drink per day, with at least THREE alcohol-free days per week.  If you have liver scarring or liver cancer, it is recommended that you do not drink any alcohol at all.  To reduce your alcohol intake:

  • Set a limit, such as one standard drink per day
  • Switch to low alcohol or alcohol-free drinks
  • Avoid situations where there is pressure to drink, such as drinking in rounds
  • Mix beer with lemonade
  • Mix wine with mineral water
  • Alternate a non-alcoholic drink with an alcoholic one and
  • Aim to have two or three alcohol-free days each week.

Interested in finding out more?  Click here for the alcohol and viral hepatitis factsheet.

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Healthy eating

A well balanced diet should provide all the vitamins and minerals you need.  A healthy diet can be an easy diet: one that includes a variety of nutritious food eaten regularly and that doesn’t follow strict dietary restrictions unless medically necessary.

Dietary advice should be based on individual circumstances, but a healthy and balanced diet as recommended for all Australians in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is appropriate for most people with viral hepatitis. The guidelines recommend enjoying a wide variety of nutritious foods:

  • Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes (beans) and fruits
  • Eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles)
  • Include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or vegetarian alternatives
  • Include milks, yoghurts, cheeses and/or alternatives
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Limit saturated fat and moderate your total fat intake
  • Consume only a moderate amount of sugar and foods containing sugar.

Interested in finding out more? Click here for the alcohol and viral hepatitis factsheet.

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Complementary and alternative therapies

Many people worldwide have found an increase in well-being through using complementary therapies, whether they have hepatitis or not.  It is important to be informed about natural therapies if you have hepatitis, as some treatments can be very dangerous for people with liver problems (such as chronic viral hepatitis).  Commonly used therapies include:

  • Traditional Chinese medicine
  • St Mary’s milk thistle and dandelion
  • Acupuncture
  • Naturopathy
  • Massage or touch therapies
  • Meditation and yoga.

It’s bestif your doctor, specialist and natural therapist are able to talk directly with one another.  A reputable natural therapist should be able to communicate with your GP, and have respect for the different health options available to you; to present you with the best options for your health.

Herbs that can Damage the Liver

Some herbs and combinations of herbs can be harmful to the liver and therefore potentially dangerous for people with viral hepatitis. The following list is not exhaustive, but indicates some of the herbs people with hepatitis may want to avoid:

  • Barberry
  • Black cohosh
  • Chaparral
  • Comfrey
  • Creosote bush
  • Germander
  • Gordolobo yerba tea
  • Greasewood
  • Greater celandine
  • False pennyroyal
  • Jamaican bush tea
  • Jin Bu Huan
  • Kombucha tea
  • Sassafras
  • Senna
  • White chameleon

Interested in finding out more?  Click here for the alcohol and viral hepatitis factsheet.

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Treatment

Treatment currently available for people with hepatitis C is Pegylated Interferon and Ribavirin; commonly called ‘combination therapy’ when both drugs are used together. Using combination therapy involves injecting Pegylated Interferon into the fatty tissue under the skin once a week and taking Ribavirin tablets daily, for either six or 12 months.

Pegylated Interferon monotherapy is also available for people who cannot tolerate Ribavirin (i.e. if you have an allergic reaction to it), although this has a lower success rate in clearing the virus.

Combination therapy is highly effective:

  • About 80% of people with genotype 2 or 3; and
  • 50% of people with genotype 1, who finish treatment will clear the virus.

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