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Protect Your Liver: Prevention of Viral Hepatitis

Wong Shu Lee  

|

  July 28, 2022

World Hepatitis Day (WHD) takes place every year on 28 July bringing the world together under a single theme to raise awareness of the global burden of viral hepatitis and to influence real change. 

 

In 2022 the theme is ‘I Can’t Wait’. This campaign theme will highlight the need to accelerate the fight against viral hepatitis and the importance of testing and treatment for the real people who need it. The campaign will amplify the voices of people affected by viral hepatitis calling for immediate action and the end of stigma and discrimination.

 

Do you know 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 types are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread. 

 

Let’s learn more about the five types of hepatitis. 

 

Hepatitis A

 

Vaccine: Yes

Treatment: Yes

Cure: Most people make a full recovery

 

Hepatitis A is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). The virus is primarily spread when an uninfected (and unvaccinated) person ingests food or water that is contaminated with the faeces of an infected person. The disease is closely associated with unsafe water or food, inadequate sanitation, poor personal hygiene, and oral-anal sex.

 

Hepatitis A does not cause chronic liver disease but it can cause debilitating symptoms and rarely fulminant hepatitis (acute liver failure), which is often fatal. Symptoms of hepatitis A range from mild to severe and can include fever, malaise, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark-colored urine, and jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin). Not everyone who is infected will have all the symptoms. 

 

Hepatitis A sometimes relapses, meaning the person who just recovered falls sick again with another acute episode. This is normally followed by recovery.

 

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Recovery from symptoms following infection may be slow and can take several weeks or months. Improved sanitation, food safety, and immunization are the most effective ways to combat hepatitis A.

 

The spread of hepatitis A can be reduced by:

 

  • adequate supplies of safe drinking water;
  • proper disposal of sewage within communities; and
  • personal hygiene practices such as regular handwashing before meals and after going to the bathroom.

 

Hepatitis B

 

Vaccine: Yes 

Treatment: Yes

Cure: In development 

 

Hepatitis B is a potentially life-threatening liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). It is a major global health problem. It can cause chronic infection and puts people at high risk of death from cirrhosis and liver cancer.

 

A safe and effective vaccine that offers 98% to 100% protection against hepatitis B is available. Preventing hepatitis B infection averts the development of complications including chronic disease and liver cancer.

 

Hepatitis B is most commonly spread from mother to child at birth (perinatal transmission) or through horizontal transmission (exposure to infected blood). The development of chronic infection is common in infants infected by their mothers or before the age of 5 years.

 

Hepatitis B is also spread by needlestick injury, tattooing, piercing, and exposure to infected blood and body fluids, such as saliva and menstrual, vaginal, and seminal fluids. Transmission of the virus may also occur through the reuse of contaminated needles and syringes or sharp objects either in health care settings, in the community, or among persons who inject drugs. Sexual transmission is more prevalent in unvaccinated persons with multiple sexual partners.

 

Hepatitis C

 

Vaccine: No

Treatment: Yes

Cure: Yes

 

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) causes both acute and chronic infection. The hepatitis C virus is a bloodborne virus. It is most commonly transmitted through:

 

  • the reuse or inadequate sterilization of medical equipment, especially syringes and needles in healthcare settings;
  • the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products; and
  • injecting drug use through the sharing of injection equipment. 

 

HCV can be passed from an infected mother to her baby and via sexual practices that lead to exposure to blood (for example, people with multiple sexual partners and among men who have sex with men); however, these modes of transmission are less common.

 

Hepatitis C is not spread through breast milk, food, water, or casual contact such as hugging, kissing, and sharing food or drinks with an infected person.

 

Those who are acutely symptomatic may exhibit fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, pale faeces, joint pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes).

 

Hepatitis D

 

Vaccine: No (although hepatitis D only affects people living with hepatitis B which there is a vaccine) 

Treatment: Yes

Cure: No

 

Hepatitis D is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV), which requires HBV for its replication. Hepatitis D infection cannot occur in the absence of the hepatitis B virus. HDV-HBV co-infection is considered the most severe form of chronic viral hepatitis due to more rapid progression towards hepatocellular carcinoma and liver-related death.

 

Vaccination against hepatitis B is the only method to prevent HDV infection.

 

Hepatitis E

 

Vaccine: No

Treatment: Yes

Cure: Most people make a full recovery

 

Hepatitis E is inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV). 

 

The virus is shed in the stools of infected persons and enters the human body through the intestine. It is transmitted mainly through contaminated drinking water. The infection is usually self-limiting and resolves within 2–6 weeks. Occasionally a serious disease is known as fulminant hepatitis (acute liver failure) develops, which can be fatal.

 

Typical signs and symptoms of hepatitis include:

 

  • an initial phase of mild fever, reduced appetite (anorexia), nausea, and vomiting lasting for a few days;
  • abdominal pain, itching, skin rash, or joint pain;
  • jaundice (yellow color of the skin), dark urine, and pale stools; and
  • a slightly enlarged, tender liver (hepatomegaly).

 

Prevention is the most effective approach to infection. On an individual level, infection risk can be reduced by:

 

  • maintaining hygienic practices; and
  • avoiding consumption of water and ice of unknown purity.


 

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