Re-Examining the Facts About Hepatitis
Viral hepatitis affects millions of people worldwide and is a group of infectious diseases known as hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. Hepatitis causes both short- and long-term liver disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 257 million people are living with chronic hepatitis B and 71 million people living with chronic hepatitis C around the world. More than one million people die each year from it. World Hepatitis Day is July 28th, raising awareness about the global burden of this disease. Many people in hospice services in San Mateo and elsewhere suffer from hepatitis, so we thought this would be a good opportunity to re-examine the facts about hepatitis.
Like most people, you likely don’t give your liver much thought. But this is a very essential organ, working hard to break down fats, scrub your blood of alcohol and other toxins, recycle blood cells, and more. It has a lot of responsibility, which is why anything that messes with it is quite scary. Chronic viral hepatitis is one of the top threats to your liver, caused by many viruses that cause inflammation of the liver and impact its ability to function. Hepatitis happens to be the eighth biggest killer in the world, and one form of it — hepatitis C — kills more Americans than AIDS and HIV. Let’s look at the facts.
Fact 1: Most people don’t know they have it
Because of this fact, this year’s theme for World Hepatitis Day is “Find the Missing Millions.” 90 million people are currently living with viral hepatitis and they are unaware of this condition. If healthcare professionals can’t locate the undiagnosed and connect them with the proper care, millions more will suffer and many will die. Hepatitis is tough to detect because it begins with mild, flu-like symptoms, including body aches, fever, and fatigue. It may be weeks or months later till you see other symptoms like loss of appetite, skin rashes, weight loss, and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
That being said, for many people, those symptoms can take years to develop—or they don’t even show up at all, particularly in the case of hepatitis C. Three out of four people with Hep C don’t know they have it, according to Health.com.
Fact 2: Dirty water and food pose risks
Hepatitis A and E are both acute viral diseases, meaning most people recover just fine without experiencing long-term damage. However, in those who already have liver disease, the infections can be more serious. Both viruses are transmitted by eating food or drinking water contaminated by the feces of someone with the virus, especially in regions where there is contaminated food or water or sites that have recently experienced flooding. Hepatitis E is very rare in the U.S., but this doesn’t mean Americans can’t get it. If you are planning on taking a trip to a country with poor sanitation, for instance, practice good hygiene, which includes washing your hands after going to the bathroom, drinking bottled water, and passing on uncooked foods.
Fact 3: Some forms of hepatitis can lead to cancer
Without proper treatment, inflammation from chronic hepatitis can result in cell damage and, down the road, liver cancer. Specifically, the CDC says a type of liver cancer known as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) has been on the rise and that chronic hepatitis B and C infections account for nearly 80 percent of HCC cases around the world. For most patients with liver cancer, the top reason is chronic hepatitis C, followed closely by chronic hepatitis B. Got a family history of liver cancer? Has your infection caused internal scarring from cirrhosis? Your risk of developing cancer is even greater. Experts recommend getting tested if you believe you have been exposed.
Fact 4: Not all forms of hepatitis are related to risky habits
You may have heard about hepatitis being contracted after sharing dirty tattoo needles or injection needles. Yes, this is a way to transmit some forms of hepatitis, but this isn’t the case for most people who contract the disease. That’s because not all types of the virus can be spread through the direct exchange of bodily fluids. Some spread through contaminated water or food, and type C is spread through blood. The liver can often time fight the infection well on its own, but some forms can morph into chronic infections that have long-term health consequences. There are currently only vaccines for types A and B.
To learn more about Find the Missing Millions as part of World Hepatitis Day on July 28, check out this link. In 2016, all world governments committed to eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030, but with just 10 years to go, progress has been stalling.
Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice
Our hospice team has vast experience in treating patients with all forms of hepatitis. To learn more, contact us at 888-978-1306.