University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy, Storrs, Connecticut.
Liver disease presents with classic symptoms: fatigue, anorexia that progresses to nausea and vomiting, muscle and joint pain, and jaundice. Its most common cause is viral infection (hepatitis) with one of the hepatotropic hepatitis viruses. Although all types of hepatitis cause liver disease, their modes of transmission differ, and treatment may or may not be an option. In all types of hepatitis, people older than 65 years of age tend to develop more severe disease than those who are younger. Hepatitis A is rare in the United States, usually resolves completely with rest and supportive care, and there is no drug treatment. The Food and Drug Administration has approved several medications for hepatitis B, although comorbidities in the elderly may preclude their use. Hepatitis C is generally treated with interferon alpha and ribavirin in patients who can tolerate these agents. Chronic hepatitis D infection is more aggressive than chronic hepatitis B infection, leading to cirrhosis within two years in 10% to 15% of patients. Treatment with interferon for at least one year is recommended, but may not help. Hepatitis E virus infection-typically associated with large waterborne epidemics and endemic in Asia, Africa, and Mexico-is poorly understood and reported only sporadically in the United States. Consultant pharmacists can provide invaluable input concerning management of patients with hepatitis since few guidelines are available. Treatment is complex and often associated with side effects, and it is costly to treat. Complete adherence is critical. Residents, their families, and long-term care staff will need education and support in treating these patients. Pharmacist involvement is especially important as newly approved agents become available; side effects can cause clinicians and patients to abandon treatment.