Detection of liver disease may be based on symptoms, abnormal labs, or through tissue biopsy. In the case of viral infection, preventive vaccines are available for the most common causative viruses.
The liver is a large vital organ that is located on the right side of the human torso and is responsible for regulating many of the body’s biological processes. The production of bile, cholesterol, and blood clotting products occur in the liver. In addition, the liver regulates various nutrients and hormones. The liver also eliminates harmful substances through toxin removal and drug metabolism. Although the liver has regenerative capabilities, these are lost in more advanced stages of liver disease.
Hepatitis is the general term used to describe inflammation of the liver. There can be many causes of hepatitis including viral infection. The viruses most commonly associated with hepatitis can be identified by the letters A-E. Long-term infection by the viruses can lead to hepatitis and cirrhosis. Cirrhosis occurs when the liver slowly deteriorates and is unable to sustain normal hepatic function. Liver disease may produce symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, jaundice, nausea, and abdominal pain. Complications from liver disease are often severe and life threatening. Severe liver damage may require a donor organ and transplant procedure.
Infection by the Hepatitis A virus (HAV) can lead to irreversible liver damage. Transmission occurs through fecal-oral contact since the virus is shed in the feces following replication. The Hepatitis A vaccine is normally recommended for all children at one year of age. Non-immunized adults and adolescents at risk for HAV contact should also receive the vaccine. Two Hepatitis A vaccines, (HAVRIX TM) and (VAQTA TM), are currently available in the United States. Both vaccines consist of inactivated viruses that are unable to cause an active infection.
Unlike Hepatitis A, the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) transmission occurs through contact with bodily fluids. Although other immunization schedules may be approved, the normal schedule consists of three vaccinations with the last two injections occurring one month and six months after the first dose. HBV vaccines are available either as a single antigen immunization (ENGERIX-B TM, RECOMBIVAX-HB TM) or in combination with vaccines for other illnesses (COMVAX TM, PEDIARIX TM).
One combination product (TWINRIX TM) provides immunization for both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B viruses. There are currently no vaccines available for Hepatitis C, D, or E. Questions and concerns regarding immunizations or liver disease should be directed towards a qualified health care provider.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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