International Attention Given to Hepatitis

World Hepatitis Day to be recognized July 28 to increase awareness

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Having treatment options for a condition is great, but it isn't much help when people don't realize they are ill. This is often the case with hepatitis, say experts trying to raise awareness of the condition through World Hepatitis Day.

World Hepatitis Day will be recognized July 28 to increase awareness and prevention of the disease.

Health officials estimated that hundreds of millions of people around the world have hepatitis infections, and many do not know it.

"Learn the risk factors for hepatitis."

Hepatitis, which means liver inflammation, includes a number of different viruses and conditions. Organizers of World Hepatitis Day include the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The theme of this year's awareness day is "Hepatitis: Think Again," and organizers are encouraging the public to think twice about these conditions, which include hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E and can cause infections leading to scarring of the liver and liver cancer.

As a part of this new look at hepatitis, WHO has recently taken some steps to urge the public to consider different approaches to the conditions. In April, the organization issued revised treatment recommendations for hepatitis C — a condition that can cause both acute or chronic illness and is spread through infected blood. WHO estimated that 150 million people around the world have chronic hepatitis C infections.

In the new recommendations, WHO provided guidelines to help governments around the globe expand services to people with hepatitis C and develop programs to better screen for infections and care for these patients.

James Trotter, MD, Medical Director of Liver Transplantation at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, explained to dailyRx News who should get screened for hepatitis.

"The recommendations are to screen those born between 1945 and 1965 once as well as patients with the recognized risk factors for [hepatitis C virus] acquisition, primarily blood transfusion before 1992, spouse with [hepatitis C], history of IV drug use, elevated liver tests, organ transplant recipient before 1992, and clotting factor concentrate before 1987," Dr. Trotter said.

As another part of the "Think Again" campaign, 194 countries at WHO's World Health Assembly passed a resolution in June aiming to create a global and comprehensive response to all types of viral hepatitis.

"The resolution calls for enhanced action to improve equitable access to hepatitis prevention, diagnosis, and treatment and asks countries to develop comprehensive national hepatitis strategies," WHO explained on its website.

Another type of viral hepatitis this resolution hopes to address is hepatitis A, which the CDC explained is spread through contaminated food or water or close contact with someone with the virus. It doesn't cause chronic infection, but it can lead to illness. The CDC reported that there were approximately 1.4 million cases of hepatitis A around the world annually.

The hepatitis B virus is spread through infected bodily fluids and can cause both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) illness. WHO reported that approximately 240 million people had chronic hepatitis B.

Hepatitis D and E are rare in the US but can be common elsewhere. Hepatitis D is spread through infected blood and can cause serious liver disease. Hepatitis E typically causes an acute infection and is spread through ingestion of fecal matter, often through a contaminated water supply, the CDC reported.

Many people with chronic hepatitis infections are not aware of their condition, according to WHO.

"They are therefore at high risk of developing severe chronic liver disease and can unknowingly transmit the virus to other people," WHO reported. "Approximately one million people die each year from causes related to viral hepatitis, most commonly cirrhosis and liver cancer."

WHO called for a number of continued actions against hepatitis, including a focus on improving screening for the condition and increasing vaccinations against hepatitis B. The awareness day is recognized annually around the globe.

Review Date: 
July 6, 2014
Last Updated:
July 24, 2014