Are You One in Twelve?
Hepatitis. What You Don’t Know CAN Kill You!
Shockingly 1 in 12 people worldwide is living with either chronic hepatitis B or C. While this is far higher than the prevalence of HIV or any cancer, awareness is inexplicably low and the majority of those infected are unaware. ‘Am I Number 12?’ is the global disease awareness campaign of the World Hepatitis Alliance.
It is estimated that approximately 500 million people worldwide have either hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Every year 1.5 million people die from either hepatitis B or C.
World Hepatitis Day is observed on July 28, in recognition of the birthday of Prof Baruch Blumberg, who first discovered the hepatitis B virus. World Hepatitis Day aims to raise global awareness of hepatitis B and hepatitis C and encourage prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
If left untreated and unmanaged, hepatitis B or C can lead to advanced liver scarring (cirrhosis) and other complications, including liver cancer or liver failure. World Hepatitis Day has been led by the World Hepatitis Alliance since 2007 and on May 2010, it got global endorsement from the World Health Organization.
In conjunction with World Hepatitis Day, Natural Health aims to play a part to raise awareness and arm readers with the right knowledge to face these life-threatening diseases.
Hepatitis B Facts
- Over 2 billion people are infected worldwide.
- 350 million chronic ‘carriers’, worldwide with 75% residing in Asia.
- More than 2 million deaths a year are directly related to hepatitis B infection
- Hepatitis B is 100 times more infectious than the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
The ‘At-risk’ Category
- Babies born to mothers who are hepatitis B carriers
- Household members of carriers
- Sexual partners of carriers
- Those in occupations in which there is an increased exposure to blood and body fluids (e.g. health care workers, law enforcement officers, etc.)
- Injection drug users
- People who come from areas where hepatitis B is relatively common such as Asia, Equatorial Africa, Southern and Eastern Europe and the Pacific Islands
What Is hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is a potentially serious disease caused by a virus which attacks the liver. Anyone can get it. The virus is transmitted through food or water that has been contaminated by the hepatitis A virus. It can be passed by someone infected with the virus who doesn’t wash his/her hands properly after a bowel movement and then touches something you eat. It is hence confined to countries where hygienic standards and sanitation are poor. Hepatitis A outbreaks may occur in these areas due to inadequate sewage and water purification systems.
- Flu-like symptoms including weakness, headache and fever.
- Stomach cramps, diarrhoea and jaundice (which is yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes). These symptoms can last for several weeks and hospitalisation may be required.
- Adults develop more severe symptoms as a result of hepatitis A, while young children may not show any outward signs of infection apart from having mild flu-like symptoms or an upset stomach. Death is rare but may occur in up to 3 per cent of older people, usually with acute liver failure.
Once you’ve had the hepatitis A virus, you develop a lifelong immunity to it. Unlike hepatitis B and hepatitis C, there are no carriers and no long-term consequences of having had hepatitis A such as chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis. However, for people with chronic liver disease such as hepatitis C, infection with another virus such as hepatitis A can be a serious health risk. People with hepatitis C are encouraged to be vaccinated against both hepatitis A and hepatitis B, as are other patients with chronic liver diseases.
There is no treatment available for hepatitis A. Like many viral infections, it will naturally run its course. However, there is a vaccine that easily and effectively protects you from hepatitis A. Vaccination is recommended at any time. The vaccine will prevent you from contracting hepatitis A while travelling, and from being a potential domestic source of the virus when you return.
Prevention by Vaccination
There is no cure for hepatitis A, but it can be prevented by vaccination. Children under two years of age cannot be vaccinated. You do not necessarily need to be vaccinated if you are travelling in Canada, the US, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand or Japan. You should consider being vaccinated if you are travelling anywhere else.
What Is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus. A person who has acute hepatitis B or who is a chronic carrier can spread the virus to other people by sexual contact or through blood and other body fluids. Hepatitis B is not spread by water, food or by casual contact that occurs at most schools or workplaces.
Is HBV a Serious Disease?
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) ‘carriers’ can develop chronic liver disease including hardening of the liver (cirrhosis) and liver cancer.
- HBV is the leading cause of chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver cancer worldwide
- HBV accounts for 80% of liver cancer in Asian countries
- HBV ‘carriers’ have a 40% lifetime risk of cirrhosis
- HBV ‘carriers’ have a greater risk of liver cancer
- Tea-coloured urine
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Loss of appetite
Hepatitis B can be prevented by:
- Adopting safe sex practices
- Administering hepatitis B immune globulin to people who have had recent contact (seven days or less) with infected body fluids
- Active immunisation with a hepatitis B vaccine. Three injections of this vaccine within a six month period can provide protection against hepatitis B in majority of people
Alpha interferon is effective in decreasing viral activity in 35 to 40 per cent of patients treated. Alpha interferon is a natural product of the human body, known to interfere with the reproduction of a virus after it has invaded the body. However, this medication should not be used during pregnancy.
Prevention by Vaccination
Hepatitis B is also preventable by vaccine. Three injections of this vaccine within a six-month period provides long-lasting protection against Hepatitis in the majority of people. People most at risk are those whose jobs may expose them to blood or body fluids (i.e. firefighters, health care professionals, law enforcement officers, etc.), sexual partners of hepatitis B carriers and babies born to mothers who are hepatitis B carriers. Immigrants from countries where hepatitis B is common (i.e. Asia, Southern and Eastern Europe, Pacific Islands) also carry greater risk.
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is blood borne. Sharing needles to inject drugs or tattooing is a common cause. Even minute quantities of infected blood are dangerous. In many cases there are no early warning symptoms until liver damage is far advanced.
Most are unaware that they have the disease because there are no symptoms until the disease has reached an advanced stage, which may take up to 20 years. In some cases hepatitis C leads to chronic liver disease such as cirrhosis (irreversible and potentially fatal scarring of the liver), liver cancer or liver failure.
- May have mild flu-like symptoms, jaundice, fatigue, fever.
There is no vaccine. The current standard of care is a combination of 2 antiviral drugs. All people with chronic liver disease, including hepatitis C, should be immunised against both hepatitis A and B. A second infection by either virus can cause your liver to become worse. For those whose hepatitis C is more advanced, drug treatment may be appropriate and must be administered after careful assessment by your physician.