“Hepatitis” means swelling and inflammation of the liver. It is not a condition, but is often used to refer to a viral infection of the liver. There are seven types of hepatitis. In the U.S., the most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.
Viral hepatitis can be caused by infections from viruses, bacteria, or parasites; liver damage from alcohol; and by immune cells in the body attacking the liver and causing autoimmune hepatitis. They all have similar symptoms, including, fever, fatigue, nausea, abdominal and joint pain, jaundice (yellow skin or eyes) among others.
Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis; and the most common reason for liver transplantation. An estimated 4.4 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis; most are unaware of their infections.
July 28, 2012, marks the second annual World Hepatitis Day, established in 2010 by the World Health Organization (WHO). In this year, WHO established a global hepatitis program and developed a framework for the prevention and control of viral hepatitis that promotes a comprehensive approach with four strategic components: 1) awareness and advocacy; 2) data for decision making; 3) prevention of transmission; and 4) access to screening, care, and treatment.
Some ways to prevent viral hepatitis are:
- Wash your hands with soap after going to the toilet
- Consume food that has just been cooked
- Drink commercially bottled water, or boiled water if you unsure of local sanitation
- Eat fruits that you can peel if you are somewhere where sanitation is unreliable
- Eat raw vegetables if you are sure they have been cleaned/disinfected thoroughly
- Get a vaccine for Hepatitis A if you travel to places where hepatitis may be endemic
- Tell the partner if you are a carrier or try to find out whether he/she is a carrier
- Practice safe sex
- Use clean syringes that have not been used by anyone else
- Do not share toothbrushes, razors, or manicure instruments
- Have a Hepatitis B series of shots if you are at risk
- Only allow well-sterilized skin perforating equipment (tattoo, acupuncture, etc.)
- If you are infected cover open wounds
- Go easy on the alcohol
- Do not share drug equipment
To minimize the risk of transmitting viral hepatitis and any other blood borne illness, the CDC recommends that health care workers should always:
- Wear gloves when seeing patients.
- Wash hands between weeing different patients
- Dispose of all needles after one-time use
Remember: Identifying hidden infections early will allow more people to receive care and treatment, before they develop life-threatening liver disease.
Additional information about World Hepatitis Day is available at http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.