Tomorrow is World Hepatitis Day. Every year, this day takes place on July 28th as it is the birthday of Nobel-prize winning scientist Dr. Baruch Blumberg. He discovered the Hepatitis B virus and developed a diagnostic test & vaccine for it. The aim of World Hepatitis Day is to bring the world together to raise awareness of the global burden caused by viral Hepatitis and to effect real change.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can cause a range of health problems and can be fatal. The hepatitis virus has 5 main types; A, B, C, D and E. These types all cause liver disease but differ in ways such as transmission, severity, geographical distribution and prevention methods. Some types of hepatitis are preventable through vaccination. Types B & C lead to chronic disease for millions of people. Hepatitis B & C are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis, cancer and viral hepatitis-related deaths.
A World Health Organization study found that an estimated 4.5 million premature deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, diagnostic tests, medicines and education campaigns.-WHO
This year, the theme is Find the Missing Millions. Worldwide, 290 million people are unaware that they are living with viral hepatitis. Millions continue to suffer and lives are lost due to under-diagnosis and getting them the care they need.
Many people are asymptomatic or only exhibit mild symptoms with any of the 5 types of Hepatitis. That being said, each form of the virus can cause severe symptoms.
Symptoms of Hepatitis A, B & C may include fever, malaise, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark-coloured urine or jaundice. In some cases, the virus can cause chronic liver infection that can develop into cirrhosis, which is the scarring of the liver, or liver cancer. These patients are at risk of death.
Hepatitis D is only found in individuals who are already infected with hepatitis B. If someone has a dual infection (Hepatitis D & B), it can cause serious infection and poorer health outcomes.
Hepatitis E starts with a mild fever, reduced appetite, nausea and vomiting that can last for a few days. Some may have abdominal pain, itching, rashes or joint pain. They can also display jaundice, dark urine and pale stools and a slightly enlarged, tender liver. Occasionally, liver failure may occur.
There are effective vaccines that help prevent Hepatitis B, which also prevents the development of Hepatitis D. Chronic Hepatitis B can be treated with antiviral agents; these treatments can slow the progression of cirrhosis, reduce incidence of liver cancer and improve long term survival.
There is also a vaccine for Hepatitis E but it is not currently widely available. There is no specific treatment for acute Hepatitis B or E and hospitalisation is often not required. It is recommended to avoid unnecessary medication due to the negative effect on liver function caused by the infections – if you are unsure, please consult your GP.
Hepatitis C can be acute or chronic. Individuals may recover on their own while others may develop life threatening infection or complications (cirrhosis or cancer). There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C but 95% of people with Hepatitis C can be cured with antiviral medication.
Hepatitis A is most common in low and middle income countries due to reduced access to clean and reliable water, which increases the risk of contaminating food. There is a safe and effective vaccine for this strain. Most infections from this strain are mild and majority of individuals will recover and develop immunity. That being said, it is still a possibility, but rare, that hepatitis A can be life threatening due to the risk of liver failure.
You can take action tomorrow (July 28th ) to raise awareness to #findthemissingmillions
You can also find some free campaign materials on https://www.worldhepatitisday.org/
If you are living with Hepatitis A, B, C, D or E and would like some counselling around the effects it is having on you and your life, contact me to schedule an appointment.
Be kind to one another!