World Hepatitis Day commemorates the birthday of Dr. Baruch S. Blumberg, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for identifying the hepatitis B virus and developing its preventive vaccine. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of discovery of the hepatitis B virus. The discovery helped save hundreds of millions of lives from there on. Presently, about 400 million people are living with hepatitis B or C worldwide. About 1.4 million people die from viral hepatitis annually. The shocking part is all these deaths are preventable. Let’s take a brief look at this disease and get to know about the ways to prevent it.
What is it?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis viruses.
What causes it?
Five types of hepatitis viruses cause this condition of the liver. They are type A, B, C, D and E. They cause acute or chronic diseases of the liver which may lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and even death.
How to identify acute liver infection from a chronic one?
Acute infection may or may not show any symptoms. Symptoms may vary from yellowing of skin and eyes, dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Chronic infections often lead to cirrhosis. It may also result in liver failure or liver cancer. Hepatitis B and C are the major cause of chronic hepatitis in millions of individuals across the globe.
How do people contract this infection?
The most common mode of transmission of hepatitis A is through consumption of contaminated food and water. Lack of hygienic habits such as no hand washing before eating or after using the restrooms are the common causes of hepatitis transmission. Hepatitis E is transmitted through contaminated blood.
Hepatitis B, C and D are transmitted through infected blood and unprotected sexual contact. Contaminated blood transfusions, organ transplants or invasive procedures like injections, tattoo procedures with reused needles, and mother to new born transmission also spreads this deadly infection.
How to prevent this infection?
Preventive measures differ from one hepatitis virus to the other. It also changes with the mode of transmission. However, using basic hygienic practices, safe sex and avoiding contact with infected blood can curb the transmission of these viruses. Vaccination is another key preventive measure against these viruses. Outreach programs to increase awareness can mobilize healthcare stakeholders and educate patients.
As part of the World Hepatitis Day, several health organizations are taking initiatives across the world to create awareness about viral hepatitis, to adopt better prevention programs and for better treatment access . Let’s all join hands in creating a world free of hepatitis one step at a time.