Hepatitis: “It’s closer than you think”

WHO hepatitis vaccines

WHO is urging people to be aware of the risks of hepatitis abroad and to take suitable precautions.

The World Health Organisation used this theme during World Hepatitis Day in July this year. WHO is urging governments to step up the campaign against viral hepatitis. This inflammation of the liver is commonly referred to as A, B and C types, though there are also D and E variations.

One million die every years from hepatitis and an estimated 500 million people experience chronic illness as a result of hepatitis infection. It is also a major cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis. There are effective vaccines available for hepatitis A and B, but not currently for C.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A comes from the stool of an infected person and is generally spread through contaminated food and water. It is present in most of the under-developed and developing world. If you are moving or travelling to one of these countries you should ensure your vaccinations are up to date and ask your doctor for a booster if necessary.

Hepatitis B

People who contract this form of the disease suffer from the acute stage for a few weeks to several months. After this stage many people can fight off the infection and remain virus free. For others the virus remains in their system and they develop a chronic, lifelong hepatitis infection.

Hepatitis B is spread visa bodily fluids and unprotected sexual contact is the most common method of transmission. The infection is widespread throughout the world, with much of East Asia, Africa, South and Central America and northern Canada being of high to moderate risk.

Hepatitis precautions

If you are moving to a country that is considered to be high risk for hepatitis then you should consult a doctor to receive the available vaccinations before you travel. Common precautions to prevent infection are:

  • Practice safe food and water precautions – eat hot food hot and cold food cold.
  • Avoid uncooked food especially shellfish and salads.
  • Avoid swimming in polluted or contaminated water.
  • Brush your teeth with boiled or purified bottled water.
  • Practice safe sex
  • Avoid dental, medical or cosmetic procedures that pierce the skin unless you are sure the instruments are sterilised.

Image: Kriss Szkurlatowski