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When an individual is infected by one of these viruses it can result in acute hepatitis, which initially manifests with a similar clinical picture as that of flu, the symptoms being tiredness, fever and muscle aches. This may be accompanied by gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea, nausea or gastric discomfort and finally specific clinical signs of hepatitis may develop with the appearance of:
Yellow coloration of the skin and mucous membranes (jaundice).
Dark brown or “Coca-Cola coloured” urine (choluria).
A whitish coloration of the faeces (acholia).
In a large proportion of cases hepatitis virus infections do not produce any symptoms and go totally unnoticed, the diagnosis is only made by chance if a test is performed at the right time. This disease pattern is called subclinical or asymptomatic hepatitis.
If the infection becomes chronic, it tends to course with very few symptoms. Some patients note a lack of concentration, tiredness, discomfort in the abdomen and in cases of advanced disease (cirrhosis) they may experience jaundice and an accumulation of fluid in the legs or abdomen. Other patients do not have any symptoms whatsoever and therefore follow a completely normal life.
The fact that cases of viral hepatitis are usually asymptomatic highlights the importance of performing regular blood tests and ruling out the presence of hepatitis in the event of altered liver function or a background of risk factors for transmission.