World hepatitis day is celebrated on July 28 of every year. This year’s (2019) theme for world hepatitis day, promoted by WHO, is “Invest in eliminating hepatitis”. By the same token, the World Hepatitis Association tagged her global campaign, Find the missing millions. This came off the backdrop of a study that reveals that 300 million people worldwide living with viral hepatitis are unaware. Without finding the undiagnosed and linking them to care, millions will continue to suffer, and lives will be lost.
This year’s world hepatitis day celebrations have come and gone, but the message will linger for a long time.
Let us reflect on notable facts on hepatitis (Hepatitis B was reviewed in the earlier article):
- Viral hepatitis B and C affect 325 million people worldwide, leading to about 1.4 million deaths a year. It is the second major killer infectious disease after tuberculosis, and 9 times more people are infected with hepatitis than HIV. Deaths from hepatitis have been increasing over the past 2 decades.
- Two percent of the world’s population—approximately 150 million people—are infected with Hepatitis C Virus (HCV). Africa and Central and East Asia have the highest prevalence of HCV. The majority of individuals infected with HCV, about 85%, will develop chronic infection, which may progress to cirrhosis.
- Together, hepatitis B and C account for the highest number of new infections from among other major infectious diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis. Improved harm reduction, blood and infection control services and hepatitis B vaccination efforts are urgently needed.
- Sadly, most of the people living with hepatitis – over 80% – lack access to testing or treatment.
- Hepatitis can be prevented, diagnosed, treated and managed well. The hepatitis B vaccine is 98-100% effective in preventing new infections. For hepatitis B, people should be tested and if found positive and eligible, provided with lifelong treatment. For hepatitis C, people can be cured with a simple 2-3-month treatment with direct acting antiviral (DAA) drug(s).
- Hepatitis B vaccine provides lifelong protection.
- Hepatitis B and C can be transmitted by sex, therefore protecting oneself by using condoms is important. Some people will need treatment and can stay healthy with life-long therapy.
- Costs and accessibility are now tipping in the patient’s favour, when it comes to antiviral drugs for hepatitis (especially direct acting antivirals for hepatitis C). In lieu of medication, taking supplements to strengthen and protect your liver is a necessary second measure.
- Fulminant hepatitis is severe hepatitis with signs of liver failure. Fulminant hepatitis is more likely to develop in people with hepatitis B, particularly if they also have hepatitis D. It can progress very quickly.
- People with acute viral hepatitis usually recover in 4 to 8 weeks, even without treatment. However, those infected with hepatitis C may become carriers of the virus. People infected with hepatitis B are less likely to become carriers.
- Carriers have no symptoms but are still infected and can transmit the virus to others. Carriers may develop chronic hepatitis even though the disease is not apparent; Carriers may eventually develop cirrhosis (severe scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.