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What You Need To Know About Hepatitis

July 28 marked World Hepatitis Day, a day observed annually to raise awareness of viral hepatitis. To commemorate this day, we have put together everything you need to know about this potentially deadly illness.

According to the World Health Organization, a person dies every 30 seconds from a hepatitis related illness. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection.

Types of Hepatitis

There are five main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis B and C are the most common which result in 1.1 million deaths per year.

  • Hepatitis B & C are the more common types with an estimated 300 million people living with either B or C globally.
  • Hepatitis B & C usually affects children and marginalized populations such as men who have sex with men (MSM), Sex workers, people who inject drugs, prisoners, and people living with HIV/AIDs.
  • Hepatitis B is considered an STI because in can be passed on through sexual contact as the virus can be found in blood, semen and vaginal fluids, this particular type affects people who engage in unprotected sex or share needles. It can also be passed vertically from some infected women to her child during birth.
  • Hepatitis C is spread through contact with blood of someone who has the virus, and this is most common with people who share needles for injectable substances. In some countries, unsafe health practices can also contribute to new infections.
  • All forms of hepatitis can be silent. The infected person may have no signs or symptoms of illness. Many people only find out they have hepatitis after having a screening blood test because they do not feel anything wrong.
  • In other cases, the person may develop jaundice (yellowing of the eyes) or pain in the upper right side of their abdomen. More rarely hepatitis can make people feel tired, have nausea or vomiting, pass pale stools or dark urine, joint pains or experience a generalized body itch. Someone with any of these symptoms should consult their healthcare provider.

Treatment

Hepatitis is known to kill more people than HIV, Malaria and TB, this is according to the NCBI.

  • The great thing with hepatitis is that if it’s treated early, you have a higher chance of living.
  • Hepatitis B usually clears on its own if the condition is not chronic, however if the virus has reached the chronic stage medical treatment may be needed.
  • Hepatitis C requires antiviral medication to flush it out of the system and help the liver recover. Unfortunately, the antiviral medications used to effectively treat hepatitis C are not yet widely available in many countries and also many people remain undiagnosed until it is too late and they have already developed cirrhosis (a severe liver condition) or hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer).
  • Hepatitis A & E require rest and adequate hydration and they usually clear up on their own after a few weeks or months.

More work to raise awareness is needed to ensure people are fully aware of the dangers of hepatitis. The late Dr. Sindi Van Zyl used to emphasise the importance of regularly testing for STIs including hepatitis B when going for HIV check-up or when initiating on PrEP. She used to talk about the dangers of unchecked STIs and various ways in which people could get treated.

Phumlani Kango is a contributing writer for the Anova Health Institute. These are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Anova and its affiliates.

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