What and Why?
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver and is usually caused by virus infection. Jaundice, a deep yellowing of your skin and perhaps your urine, is its best-known feature. It is an exhausting disease that lasts for months and although most people recover completely, some do not. There is no treatment once you have the disease but personal prevention is simple, safe and highly effective for almost everyone. This is another one of those modern diseases you need to know about.
The common infectious form of hepatitis is now usually known as hepatitis-A, and is caught by consuming contaminated water or food, so that it occurs in local epidemics centred on schools or residential institutions. These epidemics are more persistent than most other virus infections, grumbling on for several years before enough people are immune to prevent any more cases for a few years more.
Each case takes anything from 15-50 days to develop after the victim has consumed infected material; illness then lasts from one to four weeks during which time the victim’s faeces are infectious to other people. There is no treatment that affects the outcome of the disease, although diet and general health must influence it significantly. Most people recover fully but take months to regain their full vitality, during which time they will be abnormally sensitive to the effects of alcohol.
Hepatitis A is now being upstaged by another which is much more dangerous and protracted — serum hepatitis or hepatitis-B. Infection must go straight into the blood stream so blood transfusion, injections, bites and dirty wounds are the main risks. About 2-4% of the British population have immune antibodies in their blood, although few of them know they had been infected. About one in twenty of these (or 1-2 per thousand of the whole population) never develop sufficient immunity and continue to have active hepatitis virus in their blood for years. These people can infect others, and may themselves later get chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis (chronic inflammation, or even liver cancer. Each year more people are affected this way. Meanwhile 1000-2000 new cases of acute hepatitis-B are reported annually, another increasing statistic. These acute cases start 50-200 days after infection and can last for many months. Nineteen out of twenty clear up completely within two years leaving the victim soundly immunized. One in a hundred are so severely infected that they die quite quickly. The others (four in every hundred cases) never achieve complete freedom of infection — they are the chronically infected ones.
Protection against hepatitis
The only protection against hepatitis-A is careful personal and public cleanliness, so that no trace of faeces gets into drinking water or onto fresh vegetable produce. Similar precautions work in hepatitis-B, but accidental puncture wounds will occur sometimes and some people are occupationally exposed to them — notably doctors and dentists and their clinical staff; nurses and care staff in residential institutions; laboratory technicians, undertakers and cleaners in hospitals; police, ambulance and prison officers.
These, together with the families and close associates of known hepatitis-B victims, are the groups for which active immunization is recommended and available under the NHS, usually free of any charge. Vaccination takes the form of three injections over a six month period, the second a month after the first. This is supposed to achieve immunity in the majority of people. Booster injections are necessary every 3-5 years. Where active immunization fails, and for anyone in serious immediate danger of infection, short-term protection is available but very expensive.
Those are the bald facts of the position, but look at the loopholes. Just as with all other serious infections including AIDS, there is a wide range of response in the victims which statistics treat as a matter of chance. In real life it never is: the constitutional vitality and general health of the person exposed always load the odds systematically for or against him. Most medical experts pay little practical attention to this principle, although it features prominently in every elementary medical textbook. Doctors may not feel they can take advantage of it, but you can.
What can I do?
1. Protect your liver: Keep to a minimum your use of alcohol and medicines. They are all poisons which your liver helps to make safe: the effort may weaken its disease resistance.
2. Good hygiene: Pay careful attention to washing your hands after visits to the toilet, before work in the kitchen and before meals. During holidays abroad be cautious in your choice of restaurants and wash carefully any raw food you buy for self-catering salad meals. Cooking destroys viruses.
Human sewage that is properly digested or composted is safe to apply to the land, as a mulch dressing on the soil surface where sunlight, air and soil organisms can weather it properly to humus in time before next year’s sowing.
3. Diet: Maintain your personal immunity at a very high level by eating fresh food based heavily on vegetables and whole-grain cereals. If you still seem to catch colds easily, supplement this diet with Vitamin C and a selection of trace nutrient minerals (food-state Vitamin C 250mg one tablet daily, and food-state Multimineral one or two tablets daily).
4. Vaccination: Ask your doctor whether, in view of your occupation, travel or your personal contacts, you ought to be vaccinated actively against hepatitis-B. If so keep the appointments regularly — it’s expensive, don’t waste it. Then remember to have a booster injection every 3-5 years.
5. Rest if you get hepatitis, avoiding rich food and stimulants (coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco) absolutely. Keep going on ripe fruit, baked vegetables, seed sprouts and juices. Take liver herb teas such as milk thistle or angelica daily. Additional Brewer’s Yeast (9-15 tablets daily) and Vitamin C (food-state 250mg three times daily) are well worth while. Homoeopathic Ipecacuanha 30c may help you overcome nausea sufficiently to eat. Above all, be meticulously hygienic in the bathroom for other people’s sake — your faeces are highly infectious. Keep to your own towel, nailbrush and facecloth and scrub your fingernails carefully after using the toilet.