World Hepatitis Day 2017: What you need to know about the disease

The World Health Organisation's (WHO) annual World Hepatitis Day takes place on July 28 in an effort to raise awareness of the disease. ― AFP pic
The World Health Organisation's (WHO) annual World Hepatitis Day takes place on July 28 in an effort to raise awareness of the disease. ― AFP pic

NEW YORK, July 28 ― The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) annual World Hepatitis Day takes place today, in an effort to raise awareness of the disease.

A global problem, there were approximately 325 million people living with chronic hepatitis at the end of 2015, and around the world an estimated 257 million people were living with hepatitis B (HBV) infection, and 71 million people were living with hepatitis C (HCV) infection in 2015. Viral hepatitis also caused 1.34 million deaths in 2015 ― more than HIV ― with deaths from hepatitis on the increase.

However despite these numbers, many know little about the disease and the viruses that cause it. Here we round up some of the facts to keep you informed.

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver which can cause fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world but other infections, toxic substances (eg, alcohol, certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases can also cause hepatitis.

There are five main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E.

How can you catch one of the viruses?

All five types of viruses are concerning as all can cause liver disease, illness and even death, however they can be transmitted in different ways.

Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is most often transmitted through drinking or eating contaminated water or food. It is also present in the faeces of infected persons. Certain sex practices can also spread HAV.

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is transmitted through exposure to infective blood, semen, and other body fluids. It can also be transmitted from infected mothers to infants at the time of birth or from family member to infant in early childhood.

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is mostly transmitted through exposure to infective blood, through transfusions of HCV-contaminated blood, contaminated injections during medical procedures, and through injection drug use. Sexual transmission is also possible, but is much less common.

Hepatitis D virus (HDV) infections occur only in those who are infected with HBV. Being infected with both HDV and HBV can result in a more serious disease and worse outcome.

Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is mainly transmitted through drinking and eating contaminated water or food.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

Acute infection may occur with limited or no symptoms, or may include symptoms such as jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Are there vaccines to prevent the different viruses?

Safe and effective vaccines are available to prevent HAV and HBV, and Hepatitis B vaccines also provide protection from HDV infection. Safe and effective vaccines to prevent HEV infection have been developed but are not widely available, and there is no vaccine for HCV.

What treatments are available for the viruses?

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A, however it is does not cause chronic liver disease and is rarely fatal. Recovery from symptoms following infection may take several weeks or even months.

There is also no specific treatment for acute hepatitis B, although chronic hepatitis B infection can be treated with medicines which can slow the progression of cirrhosis, reduce incidence of liver cancer and improve long-term survival.

Hepatitis C does not always require treatment as the immune response in some people will clear the infection. However, when treatment is necessary, medication is given to try and cure the infection.

Currently there is no effective antiviral treatment for hepatitis D and no specific treatment that can alter the course of acute hepatitis E.

For more information on hepatitis and each of the viruses head to the WHO website. The WHO has also released a video available on YouTube with some facts and figures, and information on how they are helping to combat the disease through various strategies. ― AFP-Relaxnews

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