World Hepatitis Day

Jul 28, 2011 | Jane Huston | Research & Policy

Today is World Hepatitis Day. Since 2008, World Hepatitis Day has worked to increase public and media interest through thousands of events worldwide. Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver, generally caused by a viral infection. There are 5 different types of viral hepatitis, differentiated by the letters A, B, C, D, and E. While hepatitis A and E are caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water, the remaining types are spread by contact with infected body fluids. Common means of transmission include sexual contact, blood transfusions of infected blood, shared needles, or through childbirth. Symptoms of hepatitis may include yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain; however, infections are often asymptomatic and individuals may be infected for years without showing signs. Hepatitis B and C may lead to chronic liver disease and can be fatal. Hepatitis is currently a prominent cause of death in South/Southeast Asia, where it kills more people than any other communicable disease- more than dengue, malaria, and HIV/AIDS combined over the past 10 years. In fact, nearly one-quarter of the global disease burden of hepatitis B and C lies in just 11 countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Nepal, North Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Experts predict over 5 million deaths in the region over the next decade. Perhaps most importantly, World Hepatitis Day focuses on the importance of prevention and increased access to treatment. Currently, hepatitis B can be prevented through a 3-dose vaccination series. Hepatitis A can also be prevented with vaccination, or through careful hand-washing and hygiene practices, as can hepatitis E. Unlike other types, hepatitis B is often chronic and can never be considered “cured,” but can be controlled through careful treatment.  

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