I am addressing you today with this message on one of the most important health and social issues in the world, which is chronic viral hepatitis. Why is it so important that the World Health Organization have designated July 28 as World Hepatitis Day?
One million people die each year of chronic viral hepatitis: it is the leading cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer that ultimately lead to death. Approximately 500 million people, or 1 in 12 persons worldwide, have chronic hepatitis B or C infection. Most of them do not know they are infected.
These are data from World Health Organization report, and this year’s World Hepatitis Day slogan is:
THIS IS HEPATITIS.
IT’S CLOSER THAN YOU THINK.
Know it. Confront it. Get tested.
Although this number is much higher than for AIDS or any cancer, I am sure you have not heard as much about hepatitis as about these other deadly diseases. But wait a minute… deadly? Well yes, but if cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it can be successfully cured. As for AIDS, it is now considered controllable disease, and death rate has dramatically decreased in the world due to available treatment which suppresses the HIV virus and allows the patients to live longer – just like with any chronic disease, such as diabetes or hypertension.
Now what about hepatitis B and C, and why it should concern YOU?
How can I get hepatitis B or C?
These viruses can enter your body through three main routes: blood contact, sexual contact, and from infected mother to child during pregnancy or delivery. Risky procedures involving blood contact may be: blood transfusion, hemodyalisis, surgical operations, dental procedures, piercing, tattoo, sharing needles or syringes, especially in intravenous illicit drug use; even manicure, pedicure, shaving at barber’s or during male haircut, if not properly disinfected instruments are used. It means that even though you may not consider yourself in a risk group because you are not an intravenous drug user and you maintain normal sexual life, but you cannot have guaranteed protection from getting hepatitis B or C virus.
How do I know if I have hepatitis B or C?
In cases of acute hepatitis B or C, signs of disease may be apparent (weakness, fever, nausea, vomiting, yellow color of skin and eyes), but in most cases of chronic hepatitis B and C the disease is not showing any signs for many years, until serious liver damage develops. This is why hepatitis C was called “the silent killer”. The main way to find out about the infection early is to get blood tests for viruses.
How can I prevent myself from getting infected?
The best way to prevent hepatitis B is to get vaccinated. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine against hepatitis C. The general measures for protection from these viruses include safe sex practices, not sharing needles or syringes or other instruments or personal care items that involve contact with blood.
What if I have hepatitis B or C? Is there a treatment?
Chronic hepatitis C is now considered a curable disease: the virus can be successfully eliminated from the body in certain proportion of patients with the most commonly used drug combination of peginterferon and ribavirin. For chronic hepatitis B, it should be first determined if the patient needs treatment or not. The elimination of hepatitis B virus is more difficult with treatment, but it is possible to suppress the virus so that it does not harm the liver as much.
And finally, to put it in a short way:
Hepatitis B and C infections are widespread everywhere in the world. It is not possible to get the infection by just speaking to, touching an infected person or using same utensils. However, there is no guarantee against getting the infection through unforeseen blood or sexual contact. Chronic viral hepatitis may not show itself for a long time until it might be too late to get treatment. But if the disease is diagnosed at an early stage, there are treatment options that can be effective. The way to get diagnosed is to get a blood test for hepatitis B and C.
If you have any questions regarding hepatitis B or C, you should contact a specialist – doctor-hepatologist, to address your health issues in most competent way.
Author-Assistant Professor, Internal Medicine Department of Yerevan State Medical University, gastroenterologist, hepatologist at the Gastroenterology Department of “Armenia” Republican Medical Center Manik Gemilyan