Every 30 seconds, hepatitis-related illness claims another life. Many of these deaths could be prevented. But since hepatitis doesn’t usually cause symptoms at first, most people don’t realize they are infected. If you have untreated hepatitis, you’re at risk for liver cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, and other serious conditions.
A simple blood test is all it takes to detect hepatitis B and C, and we have good treatments available. The challenge is raising awareness and making sure patients receive the care they need. That’s what World Hepatitis Day is all about.
The World Hepatitis Alliance sponsors this event every July 28, under the umbrella of the World Health Organization. The number of cases is increasing in many places, so the theme for the 2021 World Hepatitis Day is “Hepatitis Can’t Wait.”
What Is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. Most people get it through a viral infection. Hepatitis viruses don’t travel through the air like the viruses that cause the flu or COVID-19, so not everyone gets exposed. Most forms spread through blood or other bodily fluids, and some can spread through contaminated food and water.
There are five main types of viral hepatitis – A, B, C, D, and E. All of them pose major health risks. Hepatitis B and C can become chronic and lead to other illnesses.
When to Get Tested
If you haven’t already been tested for hepatitis C, talk to your health care provider about scheduling a test. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that all adults should be tested one time for hepatitis C. Pregnant women need a test for both hepatitis B and C each time they are pregnant.
If you’ve been exposed to the blood of an infected person, you may have hepatitis C. People at highest risk include patients who received organ transplants or blood transfusions before 1992, patients with HIV, patients on hemodialysis, anyone who has ever injected street drugs, and healthcare workers who might have been exposed through needle accidents.
You should also be tested for hepatitis B if you are in a high risk group, including people who were born in areas with a high rate of infection, people who inject street drugs, and patients who are taking immunosuppressive therapy or have HIV or renal disease.
The Centers for Disease Control has more information about who should be screened for each form of hepatitis. Follow the CDC’s testing recommendations whether or not you have any symptoms. The virus can live undetected in the body for many years.
You can request a blood test from your doctor or complete a home test. If you choose the home test option, be sure to purchase an FDA-approved test kit from a reputable company.
Treatment and Prevention
Hepatitis A and B have safe and effective vaccines. If you live in the US and were born after 1990, you were probably vaccinated as a baby. If you were born before 1990, talk to your health care provider about whether you’re at risk and need a vaccine. There’s not a vaccine yet for hepatitis C, but researchers are working to develop one.
Doctors can treat hepatitis B and C with antiviral drugs and other medications. Most hepatitis C infections can be completely cured.
What You Can Do to Fight Hepatitis
As with any other health concern, the first step is to take good care of yourself. Our free virtual community at Her Nexx Chapter is a great place to find resources for helping you stay healthy.
Ask your health care provider whether you need to get tested or vaccinated for the different varieties of viral hepatitis. Encourage your friends and family to do the same. Make sure your children receive the hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines.
You can also get involved on a community or national level. Consider making a donation to an organization that supports hepatitis research, sharing links and information about hepatitis on your social media accounts, and asking your legislators to sponsor health care policies that you support.
More than 300 million people worldwide are living with hepatitis. But with excellent vaccines and treatments available, there’s a lot we can do together to slow the spread of this dangerous disease.
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