One million people die every year from it…and it’s closer than you think.
Saturday, July 28 is World Hepatitis Day. Not very exciting…but very important. That’s because one million people die every year from chronic viral hepatitis, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Around the world, around 350 million people have chronic hepatitis B and 170 million have chronic hepatitis C. Because symptoms aren’t always obvious, you can have chronic hepatitis and not even know it.
“It’s closer than you think” is the theme of this year’s World Hepatitis Day:
(Video by World Hepatitis Alliance)
The hepatitis virus can cause inflammation of the liver, and chronic viral hepatitis can result in cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. Hepatitis is a stealth fighter, damaging your liver without causing symptoms. You be infected with viral hepatitis for decades without feeling ill. When you put hepatitis B and hepatitis C together, you’ve got the reason for about 80 percent of liver cancer cases around the world. There are about 4.4 million Americans living with chronic hepatitis.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), there are:
- 1.4 million cases of hepatitis A each year
- an estimated 2 billion people worldwide who have been infected with hepatitis B
- 150 million people worldwide chronically infected with hepatitis C
Hepatitis A can be found in the feces of infected people, and is spread through contaminated food and water, and sometimes through sexual activity. People who live in countries with poor sanitation are particularly vulnerable. Infections are usually mild and most people make a complete recovery. In some cases, hepatitis A can be life-threatening. There is a hepatitis A vaccine.
Hepatitis B is passed through infected body fluids like blood and semen, contaminated medical products or blood products used in transfusions, accidental needle sticks (for health care workers), and injection drug use. It can also be transmitted from infected mothers to infants during birth. There is a hepatitis B vaccine and rates of new infection have decreased in some areas of the world.
Hepatitis C is mainly transmitted through exposure to infected blood. This can happen during blood transfusions or from contaminated needles. Less commonly, it is transmitted through sexual activity. There is no hepatitis C vaccine, but a rapid test and new treatments are reducing treatment time and increasing the number of people who eventually clear the virus.
Hepatitis D only happens to people who are infected with hepatitis B.
Hepatitis E is generally transmitted through contaminated water and food. You are more likely to contract hepatitis E if you live in or visit developing countries that have poor sanitation. There is a vaccine for hepatitis E, but it is not widely available.
Symptoms include yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), dark urine, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Early diagnosis and treatment offer the best outcome and help prevent spread of the disease.
WHO has established the Global Hepatitis Programme with the following goals:
- reduce the transmission of agents that cause viral hepatitis
- reduce the morbidity and mortality due to viral hepatitis through improving the care of patients with viral hepatitis
- reduce the socio-economic impact of viral hepatitis at individual, community and population levels