July 28th is recognized globally as World Hepatitis Day to encourage the prevention, testing, and treatment of Hepatitis. The theme for this year which is – ‘Hepatitis can’t wait’ takes into cognizance the fact that people living with hepatitis can’t wait to get treatment, just as people that are unaware of their hepatitis status can’t wait to get vaccinated and tested.
Types of hepatitis
Hepatitis which is inflammation of the liver is caused by five main strains of the hepatitis virus – A, B, C, D, and E with hepatitis B and C constituting the greater health challenge. Hepatitis D virus is not considered a complete virus and can only affect people who already have hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B and C are prevalent in Nigeria. Unfortunately, most people living with hepatitis B and C infections do not show symptoms and can remain so until the infection causes significant damage to the liver.
Signs and symptoms of hepatitis
Chronic hepatitis (B, C, and D) takes a long time to develop. Hence, these signs and symptoms may not be easily noticed, but acute hepatitis (A and E) show these signs and symptoms faster –
- Abdominal pains
- Dark urine
- Yellow eyes and skin (jaundice)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
Mode of transmission
A different virus is responsible for each type of hepatitis, thus, the different modes of transmission. Hepatitis B, C, and D can be transmitted by mother to child transmission, transfusion of unscreened blood, use of unsterilized equipment for surgical procedures, indiscriminate use of sharp objects in local circumcision, tribal marking, ear piercing, tattoos, or reuse of needles and syringes and other sharp objects. Unprotected sexual intercourse is also a means of transmission.
However, hepatitis A & E viruses are transmitted through food and water that are contaminated with the fecal matter of an infected person. Hepatitis A is highly contagious.
There is noninfectious hepatitis which is caused by excessive alcohol intake, an overdose of medications, and exposure to poisons.
Hepatitis can also develop as a result of autoimmune response, that is, when the immune system mistakes the liver for a harmful object and begins to attack it.
Dangers of hepatitis for those that do not know their status
One of the dangers is that people could go on to develop liver disease, including cancer. They could also continue to infect others around them, especially family members and sexual partners.
Note that Hepatitis B (HBV ) has no known cure for now while hepatitis C has no vaccine.
Prevention of hepatitis
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B
- Practice good hygiene
- Be mindful of what and where you eat
- Know your hepatitis status, especially pregnant women to reduce the incidents of mother-to-child transmission.
- Implementation of blood safety strategies
- Safer sex practices
- Spread the word about hepatitis, not the virus.
- If you notice the above-mentioned signs and symptoms, please consult your doctor or pharmacist. Same goes for people who are exposed to the risks of hepatitis. For instance, if you have unprotected sex, multiple sex partners, share sharp objects or been in contact with a person living with hepatitis, please visit a healthcare professional.