World Hepatitis Day is a global public health campaign marked by the World Health Organization and observed on July 28 every year. Its aim is to encourage better awareness, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of an illness that kills close to 1.35 million people each year; affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide; and can lead to other serious and fatal liver diseases.
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. It comes from the Greek words “hepar” meaning liver, and “-itis” meaning inflammation. Inflammation or swelling, generally occurs in organs of the body when they are damaged by injury or infection.
The liver is one of the largest and most essential organs in the human body, supporting almost every other organ. It has around 500 different responsibilities. It processes and manages blood, controlling clotting, filtering waste products, and regulating chemicals carried in the bloodstream, such as cholesterol and glucose. It also creates bile which helps break down food and aids digestion, along with many more functions.
The most common cause of hepatitis is a viral infection, hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. Other types of hepatitis can be caused by heavy or overuse of alcohol and drugs, infections, toxins, complications from other illnesses and autoimmune disease.
Hepatitis can be a temporary condition (acute), or long term (chronic). Hepatitis itself can be a serious disease, but it also leads to other life-threatening illnesses such as liver cancer, cirrhosis, and liver failure.
Viral infections are the most common causes of hepatitis, types A, B, C, D, and E. The main differences between the strains being how transmission occurs, the severity of the illness, and prevention and treatment methods. Hepatitis A, B, and D are preventable with immunisation. There is currently no vaccine for types C or E.
With types A and E, the virus is generally spread through contact with contaminated water or food. Hepatitis B is most often sexually transmitted or caught through infected blood. Hepatitis C is contracted through infected blood. Type D can only be caught by people already infected with B.
The symptoms of hepatitis vary from person to person and can depend on the type of hepatitis the person has. A and E are often acute, and the signs appear quickly. B and C are more likely to go undetected and not be picked up until they have already caused damage which affects the function of the liver, causing a chronic long-term illness.
Types B and C are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis, cancer, and viral hepatitis-related deaths. There are antiviral medications available to treat chronic viral hepatitis B and C. It is estimated that there are 325 million people living with these diseases globally.
The excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to alcoholic hepatitis and other liver diseases, such as fatty liver and cirrhosis. One of the liver’s functions is to break down toxins, such as alcohol and drugs. If you are consuming more alcohol than the liver can process, whether that is the amount or frequency of which you drink, then the organ can become seriously damaged.
There are conflicting opinions on whether alcoholic hepatitis is completely curable. Any treatment program will include complete abstinence from alcohol, and would aim to reduce or eliminate symptoms, with the hope that any damage can be halted if not wholly reversed. Some regeneration of the liver is possible, though scarring tends to be permanent.
You can reduce your risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis by controlling how much you drink.
The symptoms of acute hepatitis appear quickly and can include:
With chronic hepatitis, the signs are often slower to develop and may be too subtle to notice until the liver stops functioning properly. Symptoms include:
Alongside alcoholic hepatitis, the viruses B and C are the most dangerous for alcoholics and addicts. Both are bloodborne pathogens that are transmitted by the direct transfer of infected blood. Hepatitis C is one of the most widely spread blood-borne viruses.
Hepatitis B is highly contagious and is contractable through contact with any infectious body fluids, blood, semen, and vaginal secretions, making it a serious sexually transmitted disease. Hepatitis C, whilst not as common, can also be transferred during sexual contact.
The potential of sharing an infected needle during intravenous drug use puts addicts in a high-risk category. Engaging in risky sexual behaviour or with multiple sex partners, whilst heavily intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol and drugs, put alcoholics and addicts at risk of catching these and other STDs.
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