Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by drugs, alcohol and viruses. Viral hepatitis is an infection that affects millions worldwide. In 2015, up to 325 million people had viral hepatitis worldwide. Out of these, 257 million people were living with hepatitis B and 71 million people were living with hepatitis C. In all, 1.34 million people died from hepatitis in 2015.
Despite the widespread nature of this deadly disease, there is a relatively low level of awareness of this health condition.
Consider 10 important facts about Viral Hepatitis.
- There are five types of Viral Hepatitis, these are : Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis D, Hepatitis E
- Only 5 in 100 persons living with hepatitis know they are infected. Most people with Hepatitis B only find out when major liver complications develop. Recent studies conducted among government workers and traders in Nigeria reported very poor knowledge of the deadly condition.
- The commonest variants of Hepatitis are Hepatitis B (which accounts for over 250 million) and Hepatitis C (about 70 million).
- Only Hepatitis B and C usually lead to chronic liver disease. Hepatitis A may result in acute liver failure which is also quite deadly. Persons with chronic infection of Hepatitis may have severe complications such as Liver cancer, liver failure and cirrhosis.
- Hepatitis A is more likely to occur in developing countries where sanitation and water supply are poor. It can easily be prevented by maintaining safe water supply, food safety, improved sanitation, hand washing and getting hepatitis A vaccine. Treatment is largely supportive. To avoid complications, doctors avoid unnecessary medications such as paracetamol.
- Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with infected blood and various body fluids, as well as through saliva, menstrual, vaginal, and seminal fluids. Close contact with infected persons and hospital equipment leads to spread of the infection. Health workers are at high risk. Unlike Hepatitis A, most people have no symptoms during the acute phase of the illness. Vaccination is the main way of preventing Hepatitis B. All children are expected to have three doses which confers immunity. Persons with HIV are usually treated for Hepatitis B because both diseases co-occur often.
- Hepatitis C infection is similar to Hepatitis B. Sexual intercourse injection drug use, unsafe injection practices, unsafe health care, and the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products are the common means of transmission. With medications, 9 out of 10 persons become cured. Hepatitis C is not spread through breast milk, food, water or by casual contact such as hugging, kissing and sharing food or drinks with an infected person.
- Hepatitis D cannot occur without prior infection with Hepatitis B. It affects about 15 million worldwide. The prevention, course and treatment is similar to Hepatitis B.
- Hepatitis E is commoner in Asia. Transmission occurs when an individual eats under-cooked meat, drinks contaminated water or receives blood transfusion.
- Only Hepatitis A and B have effective vaccines for prevention. Treatment duration depends on the variant. The shortest is Hepatitis C for 3 months. Hepatitis D treatment may last up to 1 year while Hepatitis B medications may be needed for life.
The World Health Organization (WHO) usually marks the World Hepatitis day on July 28. See the latest infographics released by WHO below:
Experts believe that with increased commitment, the rates of infection and deaths arising from Hepatitis would decrease significantly in the next few years.
“It is encouraging to see countries turning commitment into action to tackle hepatitis.” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Identifying interventions that have a high impact is a key step towards eliminating this devastating disease. Many countries have succeeded in scaling-up the hepatitis B vaccination. Now we need to push harder to increase access to diagnosis and treatment.”
“The national response towards hepatitis elimination is gaining momentum. However, at best one in ten people who are living with hepatitis know they are infected and can access treatment. This is unacceptable,” said Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, WHO’s Director of the HIV Department and Global Hepatitis Programme.
“For hepatitis elimination to become a reality, countries need to accelerate their efforts and increase investments in life-saving care. There is simply no reason why many millions of people still have not been tested for hepatitis and cannot access the treatment for which they are in dire need.”