World Hepatitis Day, observed May 19, aims to raise global awareness of hepatitis B and hepatitis C and encourage prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
Approximately 500 million people worldwide have either hepatitis B or hepatitis C. This represents 1 in 12 people, and was the basis for the 2008 World Hepatitis Day: Am I Number 12? Campaign. If left untreated and unmanaged, hepatitis B or C can lead to advanced liver scarring (cirrhosis) and other complications including liver cancer or liver failure. Every year 1.5 million people die from either hepatitis B or C.
World Hepatitis Day is led by the World Hepatitis Alliance, which represents 200 patients groups and organizations including The Hepatitis C Trust, the European Liver Patient Association and the Chinese Foundation for Hepatitis Prevention & Control.
Hepatitis simply means inflammation of the liver and can be caused by a wide range of things. One of the most common causes of chronic (long-term) hepatitis is viral infection.Hepatitis B and C are two such viruses and together kill approximately 1 million people a year. 500 million people around the world are currently infected with chronic hepatitis B or C and one in three people have been exposed to one or both viruses.Unlike hepatitis C, hepatitis B can be prevented through effective vaccination. If you think you may be at risk it is important that you get tested.
The hepatitis B virus is spread through direct contact with infected blood as well as most major body fluids, including blood, semen, sweat, tears and breast milk. The hepatitis C virus is spread through direct contact with infected blood. Very rarely it may be passed on through other body fluids.
Many people do not have any symptoms if they contract hepatitis B or C, although they can still transmit the viruses to others. The most common routes of infection are:
• Blood transfusions and receiving blood products before screening was introduced
• Medical or dental interventions without adequate sterilization of equipment
• Mother to infant during childbirth
• Sharing equipment for injecting drugs
• Sharing straws, notes etc. for snorting cocaine
• Sharing razors, toothbrushes or other household articles
• Tattooing and body piercing if done using unsterilized equipment.
In the case of hepatitis B, infection can also occur through having unprotected sex with an infected person.
Getting immunized is the best way of preventing hepatitis B infection. More than one billion doses of the hepatitis B vaccine have been used since the early 1980s and it has been shown to be effective in approximately 95% of cases. There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C.
Since 1991, the World Health Organization has called for all countries to add hepatitis B vaccine into their national schedules but many low income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent, as well as a number of other countries (including Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) do not have universal vaccine programmes. Today 350 million people around the world are living with a disease that can be prevented and which kills approximately one million people every year.