July 28th 2020 is World Hepatitis Day and this year's theme is "Towards a hepatitis-free future".
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 325 million people worldwide have Hepatitis B and C. Of this population, only 10% of those with Hepatitis B and 19% of those with Hepatitis C know they are infected. 990.000 people with Hepatitis B die every year from the infection. The most common form of hepatitis infection is Hepatitis A, however the most common cause of deaths from the hepatitis virus are Hepatitis B and C.
Hepatitis A infection occurs when contaminated foods or drinks are consumed. Living in close quarters with infected persons can also cause infection from sharing utensils and personal care items. Hepatitis B is passed on from person to person through body fluids, contaminated blood and mother to child infection. It is also transmitted by contaminated syringes and needles, skin penetration procedures such as acupuncture, piercings and tattooing. Hepatitis C infects directly through contaminated blood.
Prevention is key to eliminating spread of the hepatitis virus. Travellers should visit their Travel clinic prior to departure for counselling on safe travel habits and vaccination. Avoid sharing of toothbrushes, nail clippers and razors with live-in contacts. Wash hands after toileting or changing diapers, maintain good hygiene and a healthy lifestyle. Day care workers, health care professionals and food handlers should be immunized. Use condoms and cover open cuts and scratches. Note that infected persons are not eligible to donate blood or organs.
Pregnant women should have prenatal hepatitis screening done as part of their prenatal routine check up.
No vaccine is currently available for Hepatitis C prevention. However, harm can be reduced by avoiding dirty needles and syringes use. Utilize safe injection sites or community needle and syringe programs.
Maintain a healthy weight, and avoid alcohol and tobacco use, if diagnosed with Hepatitis C. Work closely with your physician or nurse practitioner on prescribed, evidence-based treatments to stay healthy and prevent progression of the disease.
It is the hope of the WHO that viral hepatitis can be eliminated as a public health threat by 2030, if we all do our part. Let’s get it done by creating awareness and prevent spread!