This Saturday 28 July is World Hepatitis Day which aims to raise awareness of the global burden of viral hepatitis. To highlight this important cause we’ve prepared a short blog with 4 important facts about hepatitis. You can find out more about how to support the World Hepatitis Day campaign here.
- Hepatitis is the biggest cause of liver cancer
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver and can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer; it is one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide killing more than 1.3 million people every year.
There are five main types of the hepatitis virus known as A, B, C, D and E, with types B and C being the most common cause of liver cancer and accounting for every 2 in 3 liver cancer deaths.
- 90% of people with hepatitis don’t know it
Approximately 9 in 10 men and women living with viral hepatitis do not know they are infected. This means that an estimated 300 million people are unknowningly living with hepatitis, including 42 million children.
People in their thirties are more likely to have undiagnosed hepatitis B compared to any other age group, while those aged between 45 and 60 (or the so called ‘baby boomers’) are the highest risk group for being unaware they have hepatitis C.
- Testing and early diagnosis is vital
Hepatitis B is treatable and 95% of people with hepatitis C can be completely cured within 2-3 months. However a lack of awareness amongst the high numbers of people who do not know they are infected prevents them from seeking treatment. This not only increases the risk of fatal liver disease or liver cancer later in life, but may also lead to people unknowingly transmitting the infection to others.
Testing and early diagnosis is therefore vital if we are to ensure we can meet global targets to eliminate hepatitis as a global public health risk by 2030. To help address this, the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines recommend offering testing for the hepatitis virus to those in high risk groups, as well as for health workers and blood donors. If you are unsure if you are in a high risk group, you should consult your local doctor for advice.
- Vaccinations are available for some forms of hepatitis
Vaccinations are available to help protect against some forms of hepatitis; these include hepatitis A which is typically caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water, and hepatitis B which usually occurs as a result of contact with infected body fluids.
Vaccination is advised for people travelling to countries with a moderate to high risk of infection, including those countries with poor sanitation such as parts of Asia, Africa and South America. You can find more detailed advice about hepatitis travel vaccinations online, including via the UK’s NHS FitForTravel website and the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention Traveler’s Health website.