THE World Hepatitis Day is observed every year on July 28, raising awareness on the global burden of viral hepatitis infection.

According to the World Health Organisation, “after tuberculosis, the second major killer infectious disease is hepatitis”.

Annually, approximately 1,4 million people succumb to hepatitis worldwide. Hepatitis is a disease that causes inflammation of the liver.

Biologically, the liver is the largest organ inside the human body. It helps the body to digest food, store energy, and remove poisons.

Viruses usually cause most cases of hepatitis. And the type of hepatitis is named after the virus that causes it.

Though drug and alcohol use potentially cause hepatitis, the body can mistakenly attack healthy cells in the liver and cause hepatitis.

While some hepatitis patients are asymptomatic, others may experience loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, dark-coloured urine, stomach pain and jaundice.

Some forms of hepatitis are mild, but, others can be very serious. Hepatitis can equally lead to scarring of the liver – liver cirrhosis – and liver cancer.

Normally, hepatitis goes away by itself. But antiviral drugs can be specifically used in treating some types of hepatitis.

Vaccines have always helped in preventing some forms of viral hepatitis. Sadly, some forms of hepatitis can last for a lifetime.

Hepatitis is frequently caused by five major types of viruses – hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. And among these, hepatitis A, B, and C are the most common.

Hepatitis A

This type of hepatitis is usually caused by eating, or drinking something that is infected with the virus.

Generally, hepatitis A is a short-term infection and does not normally cause complications.

Recovery from hepatitis A is approximately two months. Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment to hepatitis A, but, can be primarily prevented through vaccination.

Hepatitis B                                                                                         

Hepatitis B is commonly contracted through unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person.

Alternatively, the disease can be spread through mother-to-child transmission, sharing of injection needles, and by getting in contact with infected blood or body fluids.

In the event that a newly born baby has hepatitis B, treatment should be promptly initiated during the first 12 hours of life.

More importantly, asymptomatic patients can effectively spread the virus. Recovery from hepatitis B viral infection normally lasts for up to six months.

Consequently, the long term infection can eventually lead to liver damage.

Of note, several antiviral drugs have been specifically developed to treat long-term hepatitis B. These include lamivudine and tenofivir.

Fortunately, there is a vaccine to hepatitis B.

Hepatitis C

Just like hepatitis B, sharing of injection needles, and having contact with infected blood usually fuel the spread of hepatitis C.

In some cases, one can contract hepatitis C by having unprotected sexual intercourse with someone who is infected.

Patients suffering from this type of hepatitis do not often show symptoms. And about 80 percent of those with the disease frequently get a long-term infection.

Unfortunately, hepatitis C can eventually lead to liver cirrhosis.

Antiviral treatment for hepatitis C has been rapidly improving, with the introduction of direct-acting antiviral (DAA) regimens that are highly effective and well-tolerated.

According to the WHO, “over 80 percent of people living with hepatitis still lack prevention, testing, and treatment services”.

Since 2010, the World Hepatitis Day has been successfully celebrated every year with a new theme. This year’s theme is “find the missing million”.

“If we look at the global picture, an estimated 290 million men, women, and children are currently living with viral hepatitis unknowingly,” according to The World Hepatitis Alliance.

Critically, the reason for holding annual campaigns is to possibly eliminate the disease by 2030. In fact, hepatitis is preventable and treatable.

Ultimately, get vaccines for hepatitis, use a condom during sex, don’t share injection needles and practise good personal hygiene such as thorough hand washing with soap and water.

Everisto Mapfidze is a registered general nurse who holds a Bsc Honours in Sociology (UZ). For feedback: [email protected]