Every year on July 28, people around the world celebrate World Hepatitis Day. More than 400 million people around the world are infected with chronic hepatitis B or C, and many of them are unaware of their infections. July 28th was selected for World Hepatitis Day to honor the birthday of Nobel Laureate winner Professor Baruch Samuel Blumberg, the discoverer of the hepatitis B virus.
What Is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. It can occur as an acute illness that causes symptoms of jaundice, fever and malaise. In some people, there are no symptoms at all. Some people are able to clear the infection while others develop a lifelong, chronic illness. After years of inflammation caused by hepatitis, the liver can become cancerous or cirrhotic. More than a million people die each year due to cancer or cirrhosis due to chronic viral hepatitis.
What Are the Causes of Hepatitis?
There are several types of viruses that cause infectious hepatitis. These include the hepatitis A, B, C, D and E viruses. Each virus has its own means of transmission:
- Hepatitis A is primarily spread through contaminated food and water. It is a vaccine-preventable disease and is now part of routine childhood immunizations in the U.S. and Canada.
- Hepatitis B is spread through bodily fluids. It can be passed through sexual intercourse, sharing needles during drug use or from mother to child during birth. It is a vaccine-preventable disease. Children receive the vaccinations, which include three shots over a six-month period.
- Hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne infection in the United States. It is primarily spread through blood exposure such as through injection drug use. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
- Hepatitis D infections can only occur concurrently or after infection with hepatitis B. It can worsen the effects of chronic hepatitis B.
- Hepatitis E is usually spread through contaminated water. There is no widely available vaccine although one is under development. Infections are usually self-limiting but are a serious health concern for pregnant women.
What Is World Hepatitis Day For?
The international goal of World Hepatitis Day is to increase awareness of viral hepatitis and encourage those who are at risk to get tested. Those who have not yet been vaccinated against hepatitis A and B can work with travel health specialists to determine if vaccination would benefit their health.
Can Hepatitis Be Prevented?
Viral hepatitis can be prevented in many ways. If you’re planning a trip to places where there is a risk of consuming contaminated food or water or where the diseases are endemic such as in Southeast Asia, you can bring a water purification kit or stick with bottled water. These actions can reduce your risk of infection with hepatitis A and E. Getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B also reduces your risk of infection. To further reduce your risk of hepatitis B, and also hepatitis C, avoid exposure to blood and equipment that could have blood on it. This includes avoiding sharing needles, razors, toothbrushes and other personal care items. Pregnant women with chronic hepatitis B can receive medication, and the baby can be treated at birth to reduce the risk of infection in the infant.
Getting Vaccinated Against Hepatitis
A Passport Health travel health specialist can provide vaccinations against hepatitis A and B. If you have upcoming travel plans, schedule a pre-travel health exam at least four weeks before your trip to start your vaccinations.