Today is World Hepatitis Day and this year we are encouraged to Think Again about viral hepatitis, a disease which kills 1.5 million people annually.
Launched by the World Hepatitis Alliance in 2008, World Hepatitis Day became an official World Health Organisation day in 2010. Every year, campaigns planned for this day works towards a shift in attitude around viral hepatitis, raising awareness and influencing real change in disease prevention, testing and treatment.
What is Hepatitis?
Viral hepatitis is inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. There are five different hepatitis viruses, hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. All of these viruses cause short term, or acute infection. However, the hepatitis B, C and D viruses can also cause long-term infection, called chronic hepatitis, which can lead to life-threatening complications such as cirrhosis (liver scarring), liver failure, and liver cancer.
Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment
The most common routes of transmission for hepatitis B or C viruses are the following:
• Blood transfusions and blood products using unscreened blood (in most developed countries blood has been screened since about 1990)
• Medical or dental interventions without adequate sterilization of equipment
• Mother to infant during childbirth
• Sharing razors, toothbrushes or other household articles. However, it is unlikely to be contracted through the sharing of cutlery.
Getting immunized is the best way of preventing hepatitis B infection. More than one billion doses of the hepatitis B vaccine have been used since the early 1980s and it has been shown to be effective in approximately 95% of cases. There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C.
There is currently no treatment for hepatitis A. As a result, treating the condition is based on making the patient feel as comfortable as possible until the infection passes. If a patient is diagnosed with hepatitis B, it is likely that their doctor will refer them to a specialist, usually a hepatologist (a liver specialist). Most people tend to be free of symptoms and recover completely within a couple of months, never going on to develop chronic hepatitis. Once your symptoms get better, further testing is needed to check that the patient is free of the virus and has not developed chronic hepatitis B. Finally, most cases of acute hepatitis C are not treated as the person either does not have any symptoms or mistakes the symptoms for the flu. If hepatitis C is detected during the acute phase, it is normally recommended that the person is monitored to see if their body fights off the virus.
To find out more information about the different types of hepatitis, its prevention, diagnosis and treatment, or to get involved in the campaign, visit the world hepatitis alliance website.