In honor of World Hepatitis Day: Understanding viral hepatitis
Viral hepatitis is a global killer which claims the lives of 1.4 million people annually, more than HIV/AIDS or malaria. This year’s World Hepatitis Day is focused on an Elimination Strategy for Viral Hepatitis, with the goal of eliminating hepatitis as a public health threat by the year 2030.
The first step in eliminating viral hepatitis is developing a general understanding of hepatitis. Dr. Tony Hampton, a family practice physician from Advocate Medical Group in Chicago offers some insight into the disease.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that is caused by viruses, over-use of alcohol, drugs, or when the immune system attacks itself.
There are 5 types of hepatitis viruses that can be transmitted. Dr. Hampton briefly explains transmission of each type:
- Hepatitis A is present in the feces of infected person and is most often transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food. There is a vaccination for hepatitis A, and the body is often able to clear this infection by itself within a few weeks.
- Hepatitis B is transmitted through exposure to infected blood, semen and other body fluids. Hepatitis B can also be transmitted from mother to infants at the time of birth or from family member to infant in early childhood. There is a vaccination that can prevent infection of hepatitis B as well as drugs available for treatment.
- Hepatitis C is typically transmitted through exposure of infected blood. This can occur through transfusions of contaminated blood or through contaminated injections with needles. While there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, treatment typically includes drugs with interferon and ribavirin to eliminate the virus.
- Hepatitis D is spread through contact with infected blood similar to B and C, but the difference is there is not currently an effective antiviral therapy available.
- Hepatitis E is mainly transmitted through eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated by the feces of an infected person. It can also be spread by eating raw shellfish that has come from water contaminated by sewage. While there is no current treatment for hepatitis E, it is usually self-limiting.
“All forms of hepatitis can be prevented with education,” says Dr. Hampton. Prevention begins with lifestyle changes to avoid contraction of hepatitis B and C, since they are spread through contact with blood or bodily fluids of people who are already infected with the virus.
Dr. Hampton offers these tips for prevention:
- Avoid sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes
- Do not share drug needles or other drug equipment such as straws for snorting drugs
- Clean up blood spills with a solution that contains one part household bleach to nine parts water
- Be careful when getting tattoos and body piercings.
According to the World Health Organization, 95 percent of people with hepatitis are unaware that they are infected with the virus. Dr. Hampton suggests that patients should incorporate routine blood testing in their doctor visits because many people exposed to hepatitis show no symptoms. For those who do show symptoms, they typically include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Viral hepatitis is often a misunderstood illness that is associated with people who partake in risky behavior. But unlike many illnesses, a solution to hepatitis exists. There are currently 380 million people infected with viral hepatitis globally. With the right education and awareness, the hope is that viral hepatitis can take a step in the right direction and eventually become eliminated.
About the Author
Tiffany Nguyen, health enews contributor, is a public affairs and marketing intern at Advocate Support Centers in Downers Grove, IL. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University with a degree in public health. She is currently pursuing a Master’s in Business Administration focusing specifically on healthcare management at Lewis University. Tiffany enjoys hanging out with her friends, exploring new restaurants, and binge watching Netflix shows.