July 28 is World Hepatitis Day

Drawing blood from patient.

Hepatitis is a major global threat, affecting millions of people around the world. July 28 is World Hepatitis Day. The day, one of the World Health Organization’s officially mandated global public health days, is meant to encourage people to step up national and international efforts to end viral hepatitis.

Organizations across the country and around the world use World Hepatitis Day to raise awareness of hepatitis along with what needs to be done to increase efforts in prevention, screening, and treatment.

What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a liver disease that causes inflammation. Viruses are the most common cause of the disease. Hepatitis may also be caused by alcohol, autoimmune diseases, or other infections.

There are 5 main hepatitis viruses, and each differs from the other in unique ways

Hepatitis A

The virus is most commonly spread by ingesting contaminated food or water. Most cases are mild, but some can be life-threatening. There are vaccines against the virus.

Hepatitis B

This virus is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids from an infected person. Again, there are vaccines to protect against it.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is most commonly spread by exposure to infected blood. There is no vaccine for this virus.

Hepatitis D

Only those with hepatitis B can become infected hepatitis D. A dual infection can lead to more serious problems. The hepatitis B vaccine also protects against hepatitis D.

Hepatitis E

Like hepatitis A, hepatitis E is mostly contracted by ingesting contaminated food and water. There are some vaccines against the virus, but they aren’t widely available.

What You Can Do to Diagnose the Condition

Hepatitis requires a medical diagnosis. Your physician will perform a physical exam to look for signs and symptoms of the disease. He or she will look at your eyes and skin for jaundice and press on your abdomen to check for swelling. You will also be asked about your current health and health history. Blood tests are needed to assess your liver function and determine the presence of a viral infection. The test can determine the type of hepatitis, the severity, whether the virus is active or dormant, and whether it’s short-term or chronic. Your physician may also order imaging, which can help to assess the amount of damage done to your liver. Tests might include:

  • Ultrasounds.
  • MRIs.
  • CT scans.

If your images aren’t detailed enough, a liver biopsy may be recommended.

Treatment for Hepatitis

Certain strains of hepatitis have vaccines that can help to prevent infection.

You can prevent hepatitis A and E by practicing good hygiene. Preventing hepatitis B, C, and D involves safety practices such as not sharing needles, avoiding contact with spilled blood, and not sharing toothbrushes. B and C can also be prevented by practicing safe sex.

For those diagnosed with hepatitis, treatment depends on the type.

Hepatitis A

Since it’s a short-term illness, treatment may only require rest, hydration, and good nutrition.

Hepatitis B

While acute hepatitis B doesn’t require specific treatment, the chronic form requires antiviral medications such as tenofovir or entecavir. The treatment lasts months or even years.

Hepatitis C

Acute and chronic hepatitis C require antiviral medications such as ribavirin or Harvoni. Combination treatments are typically prescribed. For those with cirrhosis or liver disease, a transplant may be recommended.

Hepatitis D

There aren’t any known treatments for hepatitis D. Antiviral medications don’t appear to be as effective.

Hepatitis E

There aren’t any specific medical therapies for hepatitis E. Like hepatitis A, the condition is typically acute and resolves on its own with rest, fluids, and good nutrition.

Hepatitis affects hundreds of millions of people around the world.

If you are diagnosed, following your treatment plan, including taking your prescribed medications, is vital. If you find that your medications are too expensive, there is help.

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