Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver commonly caused by viral infection but could also be caused by autoimmune conditions, ingesting certain drugs and alcohol. Annually, on July 28, World Hepatitis Day is commemorated to raise awareness on the dangers and burden of viral hepatitis as well as to encourage response against the condition. The liver performs a lot of vital functions in the body which include metabolism (of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, hormones, drugs), storage, synthesis of bile and other proteins, detoxification of the blood among many others. When the liver is inflamed, its functions can be affected which can result in life threatening complications depending on the cause and effects could be short term or long term. Anyone could be at risk of developing hepatitis, however, some people can be at higher risk such as those with increased chances of getting infected with the viruses that commonly cause hepatitis like healthcare workers, babies born to mothers with hepatitis, intravenous drug users, people living in areas with poor sanitation.
Many cases of hepatitis are caused by some viruses, thus the name viral hepatitis. The viruses commonly implicated include hepatitis A, B, C, D, E viruses and the diseases they cause are named after each type.
Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus(HAV) which can be transmitted through ingestion of food or water that is contaminated or by close contact with a person with hepatitis A. It does not usually cause a serious disease as many people with the disease recover from it. It is highly contagious and infected persons may not show any symptoms. Symptoms could range from mild to severe and could be very unpleasant. Washing hands thoroughly, maintaining adequate food hygiene as well as consuming safe water are some ways to prevent the infection. Another way of preventing the infection is by getting vaccinated which is recommended for people at risk.
Hepatitis B is caused by hepatitis B virus (HBV) and is a huge global health problem which can cause long term infection usually putting people at great risk of dying from cirrhosis and liver cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) in July 2020, reports that in 2015 over a quarter of a million people were living with HBV and close to one million people died from complications of HBV infection. It can be spread from mother to child at birth, or through exposure to infected blood, through needle stick injuries in healthcare settings or through sharing of needles or sharp objects, exposure to infected body fluids like blood, semen, transfusing unscreened infected blood from one person to another. Children may develop chronic infection before the age of 5 years. Other practices that involve use of sharp objects like tattooing, piercing could also lead to transmission of hepatitis B. Since the hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body for some days, infections could still occur if it enters the body of a person who is not vaccinated. Infected people may or may not show symptoms which implies that some people may not be aware that they are infected, leading to persistent and chronic infection with its attendant complications. Treatment of hepatitis could be done using some drugs and usually depends on doctors’ recommendation and prescription. Prevention can be achieved through vaccination as well avoiding other factors that increase risk of transmission.
Hepatitis C is caused by hepatitis C virus which can cause long term infection and illness including liver cancer. It is commonly transmitted through contact with infected blood, as well as from mother to child or through sexual contact. Some people who are infected may show no symptoms and some people clear the virus without treatment. Treatment can be achieved using recommended medication prescribed by a doctor and prevention is by avoiding risk factors where possible. Vaccines for hepatitis C are not yet available. Screening for early detection is important so as to prevent or reduce any potential complications.
Hepatitis D infection occurs simultaneously with hepatitis B infection and may result in chronic and more fatal disease. It has similar routes of transmission like hepatitis B, however, mother- to-child transmission is uncommon. Prevention can be achieved through safer practices and treatment should be done following doctor’s prescription and advice.
Hepatitis E infection caused by hepatitis E virus is transmitted majorly through ingestion of contaminated water. It usually causes a self-limiting disease but could also progress to life-threatening liver disease.
Some common symptoms of hepatitis include dark coloured urine, abdominal pain, yellowish discoloration of the eyes and skin, loss of appetite, mild fever, fatigue, itching of the skin. Symptoms experienced usually vary among individuals and depends on the cause of the hepatitis, thus screening and other necessary tests can be carried out for accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
The World Health Organization’s theme for World hepatitis day 2020- “Hepatitis free future” encourages actions to be geared towards primary prevention of hepatitis like preventing mother-to-child transmission of the virus, increasing access to testing, prevention and treatment services among others, with a view to eliminating it by 2030. It recommended that one of the ways to achieve the set goal was by immunization of the newborn against HBV among other practices that prevent mother to child transmission. Following the WHO recommendations, infants are to receive HBV vaccines as soon as possible after birth with follow-up doses as scheduled by healthcare provider, HBV testing should be done at least once during pregnancy (in the early stages of pregnancy) and pregnant women testing positive for HBV (that is if HBsAg is positive) with viral load above a certain limit, receive prophylaxis as recommended to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
It is advised to discuss with primary physician or specialist for further evaluation and appropriate treatment when necessary.
Maintaining proper hygiene with safe practices, regular screening as well as making other healthy lifestyle choices will help promote the health of people and prevent transmission of viral hepatitis where possible. Policy makers also have a role to play in supporting the implementation and evaluation of policies, especially in areas that affect prevention and control of hepatitis.