With 400 million people living with hepatitis B and C worldwide, 1.4 million die due to these infections every year and many more become newly infected. Transmission of this virus can be prevented through better awareness and services that improve vaccinations, blood and injection safety, and reduce harm.
The yeraly campaign, marked on July 28, aims not only to raise awareness among the general public and infected patients, but also to urgently promote improved access to hepatitis services, particularly prevention interventions, by policymakers.”
The above paragraphs were taken from the publication of World Health Organisation (WHO), in a bit to mark Hepatitis Day, which is on July 28, 2015. For this reason, I will approach the issues of hepatitis from a question and answer view point.
Where can I get more information? As part of the measure to highlight public awareness on hepatitis, Strategic Insight Healthcare is organising a free public health seminar for Saturday 1 August 2015. You may need to call them on 08108652639 to indicate your interest.
What is hepatitis? Hepatitis simply means inflammation of the liver. The liver is one of the largest organs in the body that helps us to metabolise our food, medicines and toxins.
What causes hepatitis? Hepatitis can be caused by infections due to viruses or bacteria or even parasites. Hepatitis can also be caused by toxic substances like abuse or misuse of alcohol. For our purpose, our attention will be focused on viral hepatitis.
What is viral hepatitis? Let us return to World Health Organization to guide us: “Viral hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by one of the five hepatitis viruses: A, B, C, D and E. They are transmitted through different routes: Hepatitis A and E through contaminated food and water; Hepatitis B – through blood and other bodily fluids; Hepatitis C – mostly through blood; and
Hepatitis D – serving as an additional infection in the presence of Hepatitis B. These viruses all cause acute hepatitis which is characterized by fatigue, loss of appetite, fever and jaundice. Most persons fully recover, but a small proportion of persons can die from acute hepatitis. In addition, hepatitis B and C infections can become chronic leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is estimated that approximately 1.4 million persons die each year from the various forms of viral hepatitis.”
Note also that hepatitis B and C can be transmitted through sexual intercourse or via blood transfusion, infected fomites. A formite is any object or substance capable of carrying infectious organisms, such as germs or parasites, and hence transferring them from one individual to another. Skin cells, hair, clothing, and bedding are common hospital sources of contamination. At home and in our daily human interactions, common fomite will include shared razor blades, hair cutters or clippers,shared nail clippers, shared knives or anything that may help transmit one infected body fluid from one body to the other. Hepatitis B may also be transmitted to the newborn by the infected mother.
How can I prevent getting viral hepatitis? To start with, treatment of viral hepatitis is expensive and arduous. So, prevention is better than cure. Among other measures, it’s important to maintain good personal hygiene at all times. We should live in clean and tidy environment with good ventilation and we should dispose our home and human wastes carefully. Endeavour to drink clean infection-free water that has been well processed. Our food should be well prepared in hygienic environment. Food handlers should be clinically tested and certified free from these viruses.
Since hepatitis B and C can be transmitted sexually, it makes sense that we need to be careful whom our partners are. You may need to test your regular sexual partner and yourself for these viruses. A “night stand” or sex with a stranger carries a greater risk too.
Vaccination: Provided a person is free from specific viral hepatitis, the individual can be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B. There is no current vaccination for hepatitis C. Children and adult can receive and should receive vaccination as soon as possible. A viral hepatitis B-free sexual partner in whom the other partner is already infected should also be vaccinated as soon as possible.
Food handlers and concerned individuals can also get vaccination against hepatitis A.
How do I know if I am infected? You can be tested by your medical doctor to determine if you habour any of the viral infections. However, if you have ever had yellowish of your eyes with or without body itching and pain in the right side of the abdomen (liver area), then you should exclude if you are carrying any hepatitis viruses. You will need to see a qualified medical doctor as soon as possible for full assessment.
Is there any treatment if I am infected with any of the viruses? There is treatment for hepatitis C but extremely expensive. There is treatment for hepatitis B as well. In mild cases, hepatitis infection may go unnoticed or the body may ward off the infection. However, the best approach is to get tested. Don’t make assumptions.