World Hepatitis Day is celebrated each year on July 28, with an aim to bring attention to viruses that commonly affect people throughout the world. In many cases, transmission of these viruses can be prevented and treated. There are five types of vital hepatitis, including hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E, with the first three (A, B, C) being the most common in the United States.
Hepatitis A is often spread when food or water is contaminated by fecal matter by someone who is infected with the virus. Poor sanitation and hygiene practices, sexual practices, and unsafe food and water can lead to transmission of the virus. It tends to be more common in low-income countries, but outbreaks have frequently been seen in the first world with those experiencing homelessness. Those who are affected may have no symptoms while others may have nausea and vomiting, yellow jaundice, fever, pain, and diarrhea. Unlike other types of hepatitis, hepatitis A does not cause chronic infection and rarely leads to liver failure. Fortunately, there is a vaccination that can aid in lessening the spread of this infection. Focusing on improved hygiene and safe drinking water can help combat this as well.
Fortunately, Hepatitis B has both a vaccine and treatment; however, unlike hepatitis A, there is no cure, and hepatitis B can lead to a chronic infection, which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. Hepatitis B is a large problem throughout the world and affects a disproportionate number of individuals in African and Asian/Western Pacific countries. It is transmitted by encountering body fluids and blood by those who are infected by the virus, such as by needles, sexual encounters, and through childbirth, at which time it is passed from a mother who is infected to her newborn baby. Although many people do not experience symptoms when they become infected, some do have similar symptoms as those described above with hepatitis A. When someone is infected, there are various medications that can be used to treat the virus and help to improve survival, but unfortunately, hepatitis B cannot be cured. Vaccination remains our best option for prevention of transmission, and this series is initiated at birth.
Hepatitis C is quite common throughout the world as well, and although there is currently no vaccination for protection against this virus, we do have effective treatments, which can lead to cure. It is spread when an unaffected individual encounters the blood of someone who has the virus with the most common modalities being through blood transfusion with blood products that have not been screened, injection drug use, and less commonly, via sexual encounter. The majority of those exposed to hepatitis C will develop a chronic infection, which will also put them at risk for cirrhosis and liver cancer making this a common reason for liver transplantation here in this country. Much like with hepatitis B, some people who are infected will have no symptoms whereas others may have yellow jaundice, fever, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, pain and/or fatigue. It is now recommended that everyone age 18 or older be screened at least one time in their life. Fortunately, the medications that are used to treat hepatitis C offer excellent cure rates with very few side effects. To prevent transmission, it is imperative that we focus on screening donated blood, ensure that used needles are disposed of in a safe manner, and recommend safe sex practices.
Knowledge and awareness of the presence of these viruses, as well as focusing on prevention of transmission, vaccination, and screening when appropriate, will help to prevent downstream effects and complications.
To learn more about hepatitis prevention and treatment at Cooper, click here.