Quick facts on Hepatitis ahead of World Hepatitis Day tomorrow

By Viola Matela

Tomorrow is World Hepatitis Day, a day commemorated every July 28 to create awareness about the disease; its causes, symptoms, prevention and possible treatment.

Last year, it was commemorated under the theme “Eliminate Hepatitis” to mobilize intensified action towards the health targets in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

“Hepatitis refers to an inflammatory condition of the liver. It’s commonly caused by a viral infection, but there are other possible causes of hepatitis. These include autoimmune hepatitis and hepatitis that occurs as a secondary result of medications, drugs, toxins, and alcohol.” Dr. Moses Mutebi Nganda, a senior staff at WHO country office explains.

South Sudan has all forms of Hepatitis and in the past, outbreaks of Hepatitis E Virus (HEV) have been reported in Lakes, Unity and Upper Nile states, especially among refugees and internally displaced populations. HEV is spread by contaminated water within endemic areas or through the consumption of uncooked or undercooked meat.

There are three main types of hepatitis are known as hepatitis A, B, and C. Each is caused by a different virus. All three types can be acute, lasting for 6 months or less, and types B and C can be chronic, lasting for longer.

Hepatitis A is often mild, and most people make a full recovery, after which they are immune and therefore protected from the virus in the future. However, if it progresses, symptoms can be severe or life-threatening.

People living in places with poor sanitation and contaminated water supply are highly at risk of contracting the disease. However, there are safe and effective vaccines that protect against this virus.

Hepatitis B on the other hand is transmitted when a person:

1.Has unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person

2.Shares a needle with an infected person, often for illegal drug or steroid use

3.Has a tattoo created with unsterilized needles

4.Is accidentally pricked, for example, health workers dealing with sharp objects

5.Shares personal items, such as a toothbrush or razor, with an infected person

6.Is bitten by someone who is infected

7.An infected mother can pass the virus on to her infant when breast-feeding.

The liver of a person infected with hepatitis B swells. Severe damage can result.

HBV infection can become chronic. This can lead to complications, including scarring of the liver, or cirrhosis. It can also cause a type of cancer known as hepatocellular carcinoma

There is currently no cure for HBV. However, the vaccine is 95 percent effective against the infection.

If hepatitis is suspected, the following tests can confirm a diagnosis

Blood tests: These can detect whether the body is producing antibodies to fight the disease, and they can assess liver function by checking the levels of certain liver proteins and enzymes.

Nucleic acid tests: For hepatitis B and C, an HBV DNA or HCV RNA test can confirm the speed at which the virus is reproducing in the liver, and this will show how active the disease is.

A liver biopsy: This can measure the extent of liver damage and the possibility of cancer.

Paracentesis: Abdominal fluid is extracted and tested, to identify the cause of fluid accumulation.

Elastography: This measures the liver’s stiffness by emitting sound waves.

Global facts

According to The World Health Organisation (WHO), out of the 325 million people living with viral hepatitis globally, more than 290 million (that’s 9 in 10!)  are living with hepatitis B or hepatitis C without knowing. Unless there is a massive scale-up in screening, diagnosis and linkage to care, more people will become infected and lives will continue to be lost.

Viral hepatitis is the eighth – highest cause of mortality globally. The infection from these viruses if left untreated, Hepatitis B and C could result into chronic liver disease like liver cancer or cirrhosis.

The disease results in approximately 1.45 million deaths annually- a toll comparable to that of HIV and tuberculosis. Of those deaths, approximately 55% are attributable to hepatitis B virus (HBV), 35% to hepatitis C virus (HCV) and the remainder to hepatitis A (HAV) and hepatitis E (HEV).

Viral hepatitis is also growing cause of mortality among people living with HIV. About 5–15% of all people living with HIV are co-infected with HCV and 5–20% with HBV.


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