What Exactly Is Hepatitis and How Do You Get It? - Medshield Movement

What Exactly Is Hepatitis and How Do You Get It?

Thursday, 28 July 2022 is World Hepatitis Day (WHD) and while some of us may have heard of the infection before, we may not fully understand what hepatitis entails or know if we are carrying it. 

According to worldhepatitisday.org, somebody dies every 30 seconds from a hepatitis-related illness. The purpose of World Hepatitis Day is to raise awareness of the global burden of viral hepatitis and influence real change in behaviours, while encouraging more people to get tested for hepatitis. In 2022 the theme for World Hepatitis Day is ‘Hepatitis Can’t Wait.’

Hepatitis by the Numbers

  • 9/10 people living with hepatitis are unaware that they have it. 
  • It is estimated that 350 million people are living with hepatitis. 
  • There are five types of hepatitis: A, B, C, D and E.

What Exactly Is Viral Hepatitis?

Hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E can cause acute and chronic infection and inflammation of the liver, leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer. These viruses constitute a major global health risk.

Hepatitis A (HAV) is caused by exposure to the hepatitis A virus found in food, water and close contact with a person or object that is infected. This is acute and short-term. Unlike hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A does not cause chronic liver disease, but it can cause debilitating symptoms and acute liver failure, which can prove fatal. A vaccine exists to treat hepatitis A, as well as treatment that allows most people to make a full recovery. 

Hepatitis B (HBV) is caused by coming into contact with the hepatitis B virus in body fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions or semen. This is often an ongoing, chronic condition. The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around 257 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis B. There is a vaccine available to treat hepatitis B, but there is no cure. Most people do not experience any symptoms when newly infected. People with acute hepatitis can develop liver failure, which can lead to death. People may also develop cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma, which can lead to death. 

Hepatitis C (HCV) is caused by coming to contact with the hepatitis C virus in body fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions or semen. HCV is among the most common bloodborne viral infections and presents as a long-term condition. There is no vaccine, but medications for treatment and a cure are available. Symptoms may include fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, pale faeces, joint pain and jaundice.

Hepatitis D (HDV) is caused through contact with blood containing the hepatitis D virus. This is a rare form of hepatitis which causes liver inflammation like other strains, however, an individual cannot contract HDV without an existing hepatitis B infection. There is no cure and no vaccine, but some treatment is available. Vaccination against HBV prevents HDV coinfection. 

Hepatitis E (HEV) is caused by exposure to the hepatitis C virus in food or water. The infection is usually self-limiting and resolves within two to six weeks. Symptoms may include mild fever, reduced appetite, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, itching, skin rash or joint pain, jaundice and a slightly enlarged liver. There is no vaccine, but treatment is available and most people make a full recovery. 

If you think you may have been exposed to a form of hepatitis or are experiencing any hepatitis-related symptoms, contact your doctor immediately for more information, testing and to begin treatment.

 *All the information above has been extracted from the WHD website and the WHO website. 

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