On 28 July it is World Hepatitis Day. The aim of the day is to increase awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis and the serious diseases that it can cause.
Hepatitis is a preventable and treatable infection, yet many people die needlessly after being infected, because of a lack of awareness of the disease, and of a lack of treatment services.
What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection. There are five main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. These five cause an alarming burden of illness and death and can spread in epidemics. But hepatitis A almost always goes away on its own and does not cause long-term liver damage.
All types of hepatitis viruses can cause acute or chronic conditions of the liver such as cirrhosis and cancer.
The use of unsafe injections causes about 2 million hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections per year globally. There is also a chance of mother-to-child transmission as well as infections being transmitted via contaminated equipment and by means of sexual contact with hepatitis B.
The symptoms of hepatitis A, B and C may include fatigue, nausea, poor appetite, belly pain, a mild fever and yellow skin or eyes (jaundice). When hepatitis B and C become chronic, they may cause no symptoms for years. By the time there are any warning signs, the liver may already be damaged.
How many people are affected by hepatitis?
Hepatitis A kills around 1.45 million people worldwide every year and it is estimated that 240 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis B. Between 130 – 150 million people in the world have chronic hepatitis C infection.
The shocking thing is that 95 percent of people with hepatitis do not know that they are infected. Laboratory tests are complex and can be costly, and laboratory facilities, which are needed to diagnose the type of hepatitis, do not have the capacity to determine the diagnosis and opportunities for treatment are diminished in many countries.
What are the different treatments for hepatitis?
There are different treatments for the different types of hepatitis and there are now also vaccines available to protect against hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
WHO’s forthcoming hepatitis testing guidelines will give countries advise on simpler testing strategies that will enable them to scale up hepatitis testing services.
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