World Hepatitis Day is the international campaign every July to raise global awareness of hepatitis B and hepatitis C and to encourage prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The aim is to strengthen prevention, screening and control of viral hepatitis and its related diseases, increasing hepatitis B vaccine coverage and integration into national immunisation programs and coordinating a global response to hepatitis to increase access to treatment.
Approximately 1 in 12 people worldwide is living with either hepatitis B or hepatitis C. If left untreated and unmanaged, hepatitis B or C can lead to advanced liver scarring and other complications, including liver cancer or liver failure. That’s why this year’s campaign is about ‘finding the missing millions’ of undiagnosed Hepatitis carriers.
Generally, World Hepatitis Day focuses on Hepatitis B and C as these are more prolific; vaccination against hepatitis A isn’t routinely offered in the UK because the risk of infection is low for most people. It’s only recommended for those at high risk such as:
Vaccination for Hepatitis B is routinely available as part of the NHS vaccination program. It’s offered to all babies at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age. The infection can persist for many years in children and can eventually lead to complications such as cirrhosis. You can get infected with hepatitis B if you have contact with an infected person’s blood or other body fluids. People at risk of hepatitis B are:
Hepatitis C has caused epidemics in parts of Asia and Africa and is endemic in China. About a third of the world’s population has been infected with Hepatitis C at one point in their lives, including 350 million who are chronic carriers. I have received 2 vaccinations for this virus over the past 20 years because of my love of ‘off the beaten track’ travel adventures, along with anti-typhoid and yellow fever shots.
With modern treatments, it’s usually possible to cure the infection, and most people with it will have a normal life expectancy. It’s estimated around 215,000 people in the UK have hepatitis C. You can become infected if you come into contact with the blood of an infected person – such as the infamous case of the founder of The Body Shop, Anita Roddick, after a blood transfusion.
Hepatitis C often doesn’t have any noticeable symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged. This means that many people have the infection without realising it. The symptoms, which are sometimes mistaken for another conditions, are:
If we don’t diagnose and treat the hidden cases of hepatitis around the world, millions will suffer the consequences. This World Hepatitis Day, get involved in the campaign to find the “missing millions” of undiagnosed Hepatitis carriers, starting here.
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