World Hepatitis Day, which falls on July 28th every year, is a public holiday created to raise awareness about hepatitis. Hepatitis is a group of infectious diseases that mainly attack the liver. A healthy liver is vital to a healthy life. If you want to read more about the importance of liver health, check out our blog from last October.
Hepatitis affects people all over the world and is considered a world epidemic. Anyone can get it, anywhere. In fact, it’s estimated that around 400 million people around the world have been infected with hepatitis.
Types of Hepatitis
There are five distinct types of hepatitis – A, B, C, D, and E – each has different characteristics, but symptoms can be similar.
Usually transmitted by contaminated water or food, hepatitis A is common in many countries. Particularly those without an effective sanitation infrastructure. Symptoms can include:
- Low appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Jaundice is a medical condition where the skin or whites of the eyes become yellow. This arises from an excess of the pigment bilirubin and is usually a result of an obstruction in the bile duct. Oftentimes, this obstruction is caused by liver diseases (like hepatitis) or excessive breakdown of a person’s red blood cells.
Hepatitis A can be fatal in rare cases, but there are safe and effective vaccines to fight against the virus.
Hepatitis B tends to be short-term but it has been known to become chronic, most notably in children. The long-term effects of hepatitis B include cirrhosis or even liver cancer. Cancer tends to develop in 15-20% of those living with chronic hepatitis B. HBV can be transmitted through unprotected sex, unsterilized tattoo needles, sharing needles, accidental skin pricks with medical equipment, sharing items like razors or toothbrushes. Symptoms are similar to those of hepatitis A.
Hepatitis C is blood-borne and can only be transmitted through contact with contaminated blood. Usually, this happens through sharing needles or other drug-related equipment. HCV can be short-term, however, it’s estimated that up to 85% of people infected will develop a long-term/chronic infection. Many people, around half of those infected, show no symptoms. When symptoms do appear they are often similar to hepatitis A, but can also include confusion, joint swelling, blood in feces or vomit, itchy skin, a general feeling of being unwell, and muscle pain.
Hepatitis D, very rare, only occurs in people who are already infected with Hepatitis B. HDV is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. Symptoms are similar to those of other hepatitis viruses.
Hepatitis E is the last of the hepatitis viruses. It is also one of the rarest. Transmitted mainly through drinking water that has been contaminated with fecal matter, the symptoms include jaundice, nausea, and loss of appetite. In very rare cases, HEV can lead to acute liver failure; however, hepatitis E usually resolves itself within 6 weeks of infection.
Is Hepatitis Treatable?
While there is no cure for hepatitis, we have made huge strides in prevention and treatment over the last 100 years. We have vaccines for both hepatitis A and hepatitis B and at early ages, people in developing countries get these vaccines. Luckily, hepatitis C is easily treated, and the remaining strains, D and E, are pretty rare.
Our biggest defense against diseases like this is knowledge. Learning how they spread and the way they affect our bodies helps us learn how to stop them. Unfortunately, there are many myths and misconceptions about the virus, so today your Best Neighbors Ever is going to dispel a few of them.
Myths and Misconceptions About Hepatitis
- MYTH: If you get an infected person’s spit in your eyes, you can get infected.
- FACT: While not impossible, the chances of being infected by spit are extremely low.
- MYTH: Hepatitis is hereditary/genetic and can be passed from parent to child.
- FACT: Hepatitis is not genetic and can not be inherited. While hepatitis B can be passed from mother to child during the birthing process, this is due to contact with fluids, not a genetic factor. Transmission by the mother can be prevented if she knows her HBV status and gets a dose of immunoglobulin within 12 hours before birth.
- MYTH: Hepatitis B is an advanced kind of liver disease that is always caused by hepatitis A, and will develop into hepatitis C.
- FACT: Hepatitis A, B, and C are all caused by different strains of the hepatitis virus. While symptoms can be similar, they are each transmitted in different ways and have distinct clinical manifestations. There are absolutely no progressions from one infection to the next; however, co-infection can happen. If a patient has hepatitis C, it is recommended they get the vaccine for both hepatitis A and B. Also, as we mentioned earlier, those with hepatitis B are at risk for contracting hepatitis D.
- MYTH: You can tell when someone has hepatitis B/C by looking at them.
- FACT: The majority of people who are living with hepatitis B/C don’t have any symptoms in the early stages. You also can’t diagnose a person with viral hepatitis just by looking at them. There are physical symptoms associated with hepatitis, like jaundice, but that can be caused by a variety of other health conditions.
- MYTH: If you have hepatitis A, you’re immune from other types of the virus.
- FACT: Hepatitis A is a short-term infection. Most people usually recover within a few weeks of diagnosis. Those who have had hepatitis A have lifelong protection against HAV only. You are still at risk for other strains of the virus.
- MYTH: There is no treatment for chronic hepatitis B.
- FACT: No, there is no cure for hepatitis, but it is a manageable disease. Chronic HBV can be treated by a variety of effective medications that can slow, suppress, or even reverse liver disease. All chronic HBV patients require life-long monitoring.
- MYTH: You can contract hepatitis through casual contact like kissing, sharing meals, shaking hands, or drinking out of the same cup or bottle.
- FACT: Hepatitis can only be contracted on an intimate basis like sharing bodily fluids through unprotected sex or coming into contact with blood.
- MYTH: Hepatitis C only affects the liver.
- FACT: While hepatitis C does primarily affect the liver, it can also affect other parts of the body like the brain, pancreas, kidneys, and blood vessels.
- MYTH: Hepatitis C is an STD.
- FACT: Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood-to-blood exposure. While this can happen through sex, the risk of that type of transmission is very low. The majority of studies report a 0-3% chance of contracting hepatitis C through unprotected sex in a monogamous relationship.
We’re Not There Yet
Through raising awareness and encouraging vaccinations and testing, the World Hepatitis Alliance is aiming to eliminate this viral threat from the public by 2030, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Unfortunately, 90% of people who have hepatitis don’t even know they have been infected with it. Symptoms of Hepatitis are often disregarded or attributed to other illnesses and by the time those affected get diagnosed, it can be too late.
If you or someone you know are experiencing any of the symptoms we’ve mentioned above, we strongly urge you to see a healthcare professional. NEC is always here to help, with your closest Neighbors location only a short drive away.