World Hepatitis Day this year is Sunday, July 28th. It has been declared both as a call for awareness as well as a celebration of the progress that has been made in viral hepatitis elimination. It is a chance for the general public, the affected community, medical professionals, and policy makers to come together to call for the elimination of this disease.
Hepatitis is a disease that causes inflammation of the liver, which can lead to serious health problems including scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), liver cancer, and liver failure. Hepatitis is not a single disease – there are five basic types of hepatitis: A, B, C, D and E. The causes of hepatitis can vary and can include drugs, alcohol abuse, and certain medical conditions, but the most common cause is a virus. A, B, and C are the most common forms of viral hepatitis.
Hepatitis A and E are primarily spread by contaminated food and water. Hepatitis B is mainly sexually transmitted, but may also be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy or childbirth. Both hepatitis B and C are commonly spread by contact with infected blood through such activities as needle-sharing by intravenous drug users. Hepatitis D can only infect people already infected with hepatitis B.
In many cases, hepatitis is a temporary illness and healthy persons can often recover relatively quickly. But for certain individuals whose health is compromised by a poor lifestyle and diet as well as underlying medical issues, hepatitis can become chronic and lead to serious complications. Symptoms common to all viral strains include nausea and vomiting; symptoms of hepatitis A can also include fever, jaundice, malaise, abdominal pain and discolored waste.
Fortunately, blood tests can determine the presence of viral hepatitis, and which kind. There is a cure for hepatitis C and a vaccine and effective treatment for hepatitis B — the 4,000 deaths caused each day by viral hepatitis are preventable. In fact, viral hepatitis kills more than 1.34 million people each year, more than HIV/AIDs or malaria and currently 290 million people live with viral hepatitis completely unaware that they’re infected. One of the key reasons for this is a lack of awareness about the disease.
If you suspect you or someone you love might have hepatitis, we urge you or your loved one to come in to get tested and, if infected, get treated. We can all help to eliminate hepatitis, but it will take concerted effort by the public, healthcare professionals, and government agencies. World Hepatitis Day is just one way to raise awareness and encourage action.