Increasing numbers of people are being infected with the various hepatitis viruses. Hepatitis A, widespread in central and southern Asia, and which is transmitted fairly easily by poor hygiene and uncooked foods, as well as chopsticks and drinking glasses, is not usually fatal, but can result in unpleasant symptoms of fatigue, nausea, decreased appetite, and joint and muscle pain. Nonetheless, hepatitis A occasionally causes quick destruction of the liver and death. There are no effective treatments in Western medicine for hepatitis A, and so physicians address each of the symptoms symptomatically when they can.
Hepatitis A has an incubation period of 1 to three weeks and can also be transmitted sexually. Outbreaks in day care centers are increasingly common. There may be a place for Chinese medicine in the treatment of hepatitis A, and although some people seem to develop better resistance to viral illness during acupuncture treatment, there is no evidence at present that acupuncture can prevent hepatitis A. Vaccination is a reasonable solution and should be strongly considered. It should be noted that the Chinese discovered the principles of vaccination long before they were known in the West.
Infection with hepatitis B is more likely to result in serious and chronic disease, and this seems to also be true for hepatitis C. Hepatitis D seems to be limited to an association with hepatitis B. Curiously, hepatitis D has similarities to plant viruses, and may have had its origins in the plant world. Hepatitis E seems to be an enterovirus and is transmitted by an oral-fecal route, and hepatitis G and F are presently under investigation. There may be some similarities in the G virus to certain viruses which infect other primates. Transmission of hepatitis B occurs during pregnancy, with intravenous and blood transfusion contamination, and sexually. Health care workers are also at risk through exposure to body fluids and blood. Exposure to untreated sewage also presents a risk.
Hepatitis C is primarily transmitted by transfusion, but can also be transmitted sexually and by needle sharing. It also presents a significant risk to physicians, surgeons, nurses, and emergency and rescue workers, as with the other hepatitis subtypes. Chronic infection with hepatitis B, hepatitis B and D, and hepatitis C increases the likelihood of chronic and difficult to treat symptoms, including scarring of the liver, known to doctors as "cirrhosis". If enough of the liver is damaged by inflammation, liver failure will occur. This is fatal unless the patient has a liver transplant. Unusual and sometimes fatal complications of acute viral hepatitis include aplastic anemia, hemolytic anemia, hypoglycemia, and polyarteritis. The risk appears to be higher if infection occurs at a very early age or if chronic liver disease is also present.
Drugs can also cause hepatitis, which appears in a very similar way to viral hepatitis. In fact, without sophisticated testing, drug induced hepatitis may be indistinguishable from acute viral hepatitis. Of course, if this type of hepatitis can be diagnosed, stopping the drug is wise.
Acupuncture therapy and traditional medicine prepared from different herbs and roots are individualized to each patient's presentation regardless of which viral subtype is involved. In addition, knowing the pattern of the disorder can also help in choosing which form of Western drug therapy may work the most effectively, and acupuncture and Chinese medicinals may in some situations improve the response to Western drugs at lower dosages, as well as to address the side effects commonly seen with pharmaceutical drugs.
Treating chronic or acute hepatitis with acupuncture and Chinese medicine should be seen as a long term process, especially if the condition has been present for many years. Western drugs have not been able to reduce the viral load effectively, and many patients do not respond to Western medicine. Side effects from antivirals and interferon are considerable, and toxicity is moderately high. A physician skilled in Oriental medicine is most likely to be able to coordinate care and provide approaches which can address the multiple level nature of viral hepatitis.
Time will prove that traditional methods of treatment like acupuncture, help to reduce the suffering of conditions like hepatitis at a reasonable cost and with a minimum of risk and side effects.
Dr. L.B. Grotte, M.D., was the first physician in Ohio to be board certified in both acupuncture and Chinese herbology. He has studied Oriental medicine since 1972 and has practiced Oriental medicine in Cleveland for more than 27 years. Our small practice specializes in creating individualized treatment plans combining Western and Oriental methods. Call us at 440-461-7488 to make an appointment or visit our website for more information.