You’ve probably heard of viral hepatitis, the group of infectious diseases including hepatitis A,B,C,D, and E. I immediately think of getting my back to school vaccinations, hepatitis always on the list.
I never really knew what hepatitis was, except that I did not want to contract it. That it causes nearly 1.34 million deaths per year is an alarming statistic I was unaware of. 325 million people are living with viral hepatitis according to the World Health Organization, specifically chronic hepatitis B and chronic hepatitis C.
World Hepatitis Day is on Saturday, July 28th and aims to spread awareness and eliminate viral hepatitis once and for all. To understand hepatitis and how to combat it on a global scale, it’s important to note the differences between each type.
Hepatitis A is spread mainly through ingestion of food, drink, or anything that may have come in contact with infected feces. The good news is it is rarely fatal, doesn’t cause chronic liver disease, and is entirely preventable (vaccines, everyone)!
Hepatitis B is virus primarily spread to an infant during birth from an infected mother. Bodily fluids exchanged through injections, sexual contact, and unsterile medical equipment can also spread Hepatitis B. It can lead to chronic infections and liver cancer. This virus is found commonly in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands, the Amazon region of South America, southern parts of eastern and central Europe, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent. The World Health Organization recommends babies are vaccinated as soon as possible to prevent contracting the virus.
Hepatitis C currently has no vaccine. It does, however, have a treatment that can cure 90 percent of infected people within 2 to 3 months, reducing the risk of liver cancer. Hepatitis C is mainly spread through contact with infected blood and unsafe medical injections. While Hepatitis C can cause chronic and acute infections, it most typically causes chronic infections.
Hepatitis D can only occur in a person who already has Hepatitis B. If a person doesn’t have Hepatitis B, they can prevent the risk of contracting Hepatitis D by getting a vaccine for Hepatitis B.
Spread through contaminated drinking water, Hepatitis E goes away in four to six weeks. There’s no treatment for this virus but it is specifically dangerous for pregnant women. It’s global, but its highest rate of infection is in South and East Asia. There’s a vaccine for Hepatitis E, but it is currently only available in China.
Discrimination and Stigma
As with a lot of health challenges and diseases, there are stigmas around viral hepatitis that cause people to avoid getting tested and diagnosed, which makes the disease harder to combat. Some of these stigmas have very real oppressive effects. For example, immigration laws make it so Australians with chronic hepatitis B can be denied a permanent visa. Because hepatitis B can be transmitted sexually, there’s often stigma surrounding a person’s sex life. If we are able to destroy these stigmas, more people will be inclined to get tested.
By breaking down the different types of hepatitis and learning more about how they’re transmitted, we can go forth into the world with more education about this unfortunately common killer. With open conversation and the spread of knowledge, we can begin to reduce the 300 million cases of people living unknowingly with hepatitis.
World Hepatitis Day aims to end stigma, spread information, provide resources, have people assess their personal risk of viral hepatitis, and to defeat this global epidemic. How will you do your part? Even just passing along accurate information about the types of hepatitis could make a difference.