World Hepatitis Day: Combating the Silent Epidemic

Jan 15, 2024


- Dr. Ankur Garg, HOD and Senior Consultant, HPB Surgery and Liver Transplant, Sanar International Hospitals

Hepatitis is a condition characterised by inflammation of the liver, but there is a wide spectrum of causes and risk factors that contribute to this infection's spread. The condition of affected persons may range from a minor stomach ache to liver cirrhosis. While we have vaccinations and other preventive measures, a larger section of developing countries is highly affected by this severe infection. A study by the WHO confirms that around 4.5 million premature deaths could be prevented in low and middle-income countries by 2030 with vaccination, medicines, awareness, and diagnostic tests. Adding to that, according to the National Library of Medicine, Viral Hepatitis is one of the emerging health concerns. This year's theme of World Hepatitis Day is "We are not waiting," which aspires to seek the attention of a larger section.

Hepatitis can occur either due to external sources of infection or, at times, due to an autoimmune response. It’s classified into five types: Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E.

Hepatitis A: The responsible factors for this infection's spread are the faecal-oral route, consumption of contaminated water, food prepared or eaten in contaminated surroundings, unsafe sexual intercourse, etc. Generally, such patients are not seen with many complications, and the availability of vaccinations ensures prevention as well. The recovery of such patients is also promised without any major severity if treated on time, but any delay in consultation can potentially result in jaundice. It remains for 2 to 4 weeks in the human body, depending on the severity of the disease.

Hepatitis B: In this group of infections, Hepatitis B can cause severe liver damage and result in life-threatening conditions if not treated early. It spreads through body fluids, like from the mother to the child in the womb, unsafe sexual intercourse, blood transfusions, used needles, etc.

Hepatitis C: Like Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C also transmits through blood transfusion and sexual intercourse. Contaminated blood is one of the major sources of the rapid spread of this infection. Hepatitis C, or HCV, is curable with four to six months’ medication.

Hepatitis D: People already infected by Hepatitis B develop Hepatitis D; hence, having Hepatitis B increases the potential risk of getting infected by Hepatitis D as well. The general conditions and symptoms of Hepatitis D patients may be the same as Hepatitis B, but they can be comparatively far more severe.

Hepatitis E: Patients affected by Hepatitis E generally do not need treatment; in rare cases, it does not cause any potential risk or immediate complications, but in the long run, it surely adds to the risk of liver damage, and this is one of the leading causes of hepatitis occurrence among Indian adults. Hence, medical intervention is the key. Like hepatitis A, it spreads through contaminated surroundings.

Key Preventive Measures

  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.
  • Consume clean water
  • Opt for safe and hygienic sex.
  • Whether you are at a clinic or at a tattoo shop, ensure fresh needles are being used.
  • Ensure basic hygiene at home.
  • Consume washed fruits and nicely cooked food.
  • Avoid eating at unhygienic places.

Every year, World Hepatitis Day comes with a reminder that it still remains one of the major global health challenges that require collective efforts to prevent the spread of infections, improve access to screening and treatment, and support those living with the disease. By raising awareness, promoting preventive measures, and advocating for equitable healthcare, we can strive to eliminate the burden of viral hepatitis and ensure a healthier future for all. We also need to be attentive to the social stigma associated with Hepatitis infections, as it discourages patients living with Hepatitis or fighting chronic conditions caused by this infection.