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“It might be too late. It’s very important to have your blood tested…”
This is a quote from an article online that I read last year about a celebrity who recounted his ordeal with hepatitis and how he survived it after 18 years.
These warning words are very compelling considering he treated those years as a nightmare. Conversely, the message could really be ‘prevention is better than cure’ but early detection and diagnosis increases the chances for successful treatment for hepatitis.
However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 300 million people around the world living with viral hepatitis not knowing they have the virus in their bodies.
Our collective failure in finding all the undiagnosed and recommend care for them will result in continued suffering, if not loss of lives to millions.
Viral Hepatitis is an infection that causes liver inflammation and damage. Viruses causing hepatitis includes hepatitis A, B, C, D and E, which is one of the biggest global health threats, with around 1.34 million deaths per year caused by the disease. These are infectious diseases that could be the cause of short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic) liver disease.
Thus, here is a rundown of the group of diseases under the viral hepatitis so as to provide us of the basic awareness of the virus, how it is spread, and how to prevent infection.
Hepatitis A typically spreads via ingestion of food or drinks contaminated by small amounts of stool from an infected person. In other countries, the most common cases of the spread of hepatitis A had been through close personal contact with someone infected through unprotected sex, attending to patients, use of drugs with others etc.
Although hepatitis A may not cause a chronic, lifelong infection, not even fatal, it brings out serious symptoms. Hepatitis A can be prevented through vaccination and a couple of healthy lifestyle routines like good hand hygiene, improved sanitation, food safety etc.
The hepatitis B virus is most commonly spread from an infected mother to her baby at birth and among unvaccinated children. It can also be spread through contact with blood and other body fluids including sharing drug needles, unsterile medical equipment and unprotected sex.
Hepatitis B, which is most common in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, could just be a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, chronic illness. If infected at birth or during early childhood, people are more likely to develop a chronic infection, which can lead to liver damage or even liver cancer.
A hepatitis B vaccine is likewise the best option for prevention. Thus, WHO recommends hepatitis B vaccination for all infants. This has led to successful decline of new cases of infection of the disease in many countries. Protection and sanitation is one of the preventive measures for hepatitis B infections.
Blood contact with an infected person is how the hepatitis C virus is spread. However, one may be infected via sharing any utensils used to prepare and inject drugs and through the use of contaminated medical injections and other medical procedures.
Although rare, hepatitis C may also be spread from an infected mother to her child at birth. And like the hepatitis B, it can cause both acute and chronic infections. Most cases show that those infected with chronic hepatitis C will develop liver failure or liver cancer.
Treatment of the hepatitis C, is already available that could reduce the risk of deaths. This could lead to curing over 90% of infected patients. However, vaccine for this disease is not yet available.
The hepatitis D, on the other hand is spread through contact with infected blood. But the virus could only exist in patients with the hepatitis B virus. That is why it is best that one gets vaccinated against hepatitis B.
Lastly, the hepatitis E virus is generally spread through contaminated drinking water or eating undercooked pork, shellfish or deer. This virus is prevalent is Asia. To prevent new cases of this disease we need to improve our water quality and sanitation practices.
Symptoms of these different types of viral hepatitis could just simply manifest as simple symptoms such as yellowing of the skin and eyes, dark urine, fatigue, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Either you are in denial or just ignorant of the possibility of being infected by any of these diseases. By the time your attention is already called, you could already have liver cancer or cirrhosis.
Before it is too late, let’s heed the call to take the first step – get your blood tested and seek treatment or care. Treatments and vaccines are already available.
Prevention indeed is better than getting through this illness.
July 28th is World Hepatitis day, let’s join the campaign to end the spread of viral hepatitis.
Sources: World Health Organization, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, www.niddk.nih.gov