Hepatitis: “It’s closer than you think”



Under the World Hepatitis Day theme “It’s closer than you think”, WHO is urging governments to strengthen efforts to fight viral hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that kills about one million people every year. In addition, an estimated 500 million people experience chronic illness from their infection with hepatitis; it is a major cause of liver cancer and liver cirrhosis.

“The vast majority of people infected with hepatitis are unaware, undiagnosed and untreated,” says Dr Sylvie Briand of WHO’s Pandemic and Epidemic Disease Department. “Only by increasing awareness of the different forms of hepatitis, and how they can be prevented and treated, can we take the first step towards full control of the disease and save thousands of lives.”

Types of hepatitis

There are five hepatitis viruses defined by types – type A, B, C, D and E. Types B and C are of significant concern since a high proportion of people infected with these viruses may not experience symptoms at the early stage of the disease, and only become aware of their infection when they are chronically ill. This can sometimes be decades after infection. In addition, these two viruses are the leading cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer,accounting for almost 80% of all liver cancer cases.

People can get hepatitis from either infected bodily fluids or contaminated food and water depending on the type of hepatitis.

  • Types B, C and D are contracted through the blood of an infected person (e.g. through unsafe injections or unscreened blood transfusions) and in the case of hepatitis B and C, also through unprotected sex.
  • Type D only infects persons who are already infected with type B.
  • Types A and E are typically transmitted via contaminated water or food and closely associated with poor sanitation and poor personal hygiene (e.g. unwashed hands).

Effective vaccines are available for all the virus types, except C.

Given the scale of the epidemic – with 1 in 12 people chronically infected – and recent advances in prevention and treatment, the World Health Assembly in 2010 designated 28 July as World Hepatitis Day. The Day serves to promote greater understanding of hepatitis as a global public health problem and to stimulate the strengthening of preventive and control measures against infection in countries throughout the world.

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