On July 28, the World Hepatitis Alliance will sponsor World Hepatitis Day 2016. The theme of this year’s observance centers on the global campaign to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health crisis. Across the world, the World Hepatitis Alliance will host and provide support to celebrations that will bring awareness and raise funds to provide for research and vaccination availability. Because many of the kinds of hepatitis have an existing vaccine, it is important for individuals to recognize the risk and the ways in which they can protect themselves from hepatitis.
Hepatitis is an infection of the liver, the large organ that sits just below the ribs and functions to detoxify blood and other substances in the body. Viral hepatitis can infect the liver and cause damage to the tissue, often making it more difficult for it to adequately remove toxins from the blood. Nearly all types of viral hepatitis are transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids—particularly blood—of infected individuals. There are five known types of viral hepatitis.
• Hepatitis A is transmitted through contamination of food or drinking water by fecal matter from an infected person.
• Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with blood or bodily fluids from an infected person. This kind of viral hepatitis can be sexually transmitted and can be passed from mother to child during childbirth.
• Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood contact, although it can be transmitted sexually or during childbirth. These kinds of transmission, however, are rare.
• Hepatitis D is transmitted through blood contact and is a co-occurring infection in individuals who have Hepatitis B.
• Hepatitis E is transmitted through contamination of food or drinking water by fecal matter from an infected person.
Luckily, there are known treatments or vaccines for every type of viral hepatitis except Hepatitis E. While there is a vaccine for Hepatitis E, it is not available globally and there is no known treatment for the infection. Luckily, Hepatitis E tends to “die out” and is self-limiting.
Prevention of hepatitis infection is a question of being aware of and providing for one’s own safety. Many kinds of hepatitis, particularly A and E, can be avoided by maintaining personal hygiene and sanitation. While both of these types of hepatitis are more common in areas of poor sanitation—such as lesser developed countries and slum areas, Hepatitis A is sometimes transmitted as a food-borne illness in restaurants if a server or preparation staff member is infected and has poor hygiene practices. In all other kinds of hepatitis, it is important for all caregivers to know an individual’s hepatitis status—particularly during pregnancy and delivery. The use of condoms and practicing safe sex can also help reduce the chance of infection of Hepatitis B and C.
Many health care professionals encourage individuals to take advantage of the hepatitis vaccines. Additionally, it is important for individuals to avoid risk factors such as sharing toothbrushes, needles, razors, or other sharp objects that may come in contact with blood or bodily fluids. For those who are interested in getting tattoos or body piercings, it is important to observe the sanitation practices of the artist and the facility as a whole. Always ask for a license and a sanitation certificate before using any tattoo or body piercing location.
For more information on how to contribute to the World Hepatitis Day 2016 campaign to end hepatitis, visit www.worldhepatitisday.info