Prevention: that is what World Hepatitis Day is all about. Every year, on July 28th, the World Health Organization (WHO) commemorates the birth of Professor Baruch Samuel Blumberg who discovered both the Hepatitis B virus and vaccine.
Every year, 1.5 million people die from hepatitis and their related illnesses such as cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. WHO works in an effort to spread the word about prevention, as there is no cure.
Know your facts
Hepatitis is a viral liver disease that, depending on the type, can cause mild to severe damage to the liver and even death. It is a worldwide epidemic hazard, not restricted to any area, but most prominent in Africa, East Asia and Central and South America. Eastern and Central Europe come in at close second.
Hepatitis is caused mainly by the ingestion of unsafe water and food, unsafe use of syringes, transfusion of infected blood and sexual contact with another infected person. Generally, symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, vomit, diarrhea, dark urine, abdominal pain, amongst others.
It is important to know, however, that a high percentage of infected people do not show any signs, which is why regular medical check ups of your liver function are important. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes) is a late symptom, indicating a serious chronic infection.
The best treatment is prevention
Vaccinations are available – and 95% effective – for hepatitis A and B. It is recommended that newborns get vaccinated within the first 24 hours of birth. Older children, teenagers and adults can get vaccinated after being examined to ensure there is no presence of it.
There are 150 million people living with with chronic hepatitis C infection worldwide. Although 45% of infected people are spontaneously cleared of the virus within the first 6 months, the remaining develop a serious chronic illness that can result in death.
Treatments include the use of antiviral medication to slow down the damage of the liver, but not to fully prevent it, or a liver transplant. Prevention is the only cure against hepatitis. Proper handling of waste, constant and safe personal hygiene, regular blood examinations, vaccination, clean supplies of water, are the official recommendations from WHO in order to prevent the disease.
[Image: Steven Depolo]