The global fight against hepatitis is far from over. About 325 million people worldwide are still affected by this infectious killer, according to the World Health Organization. The disease kills nearly two million people every year, and the number is still increasing. Health experts warn that the lack of awareness about the disease and proper prevention and treatment are the leading causes of the rise in hepatitis cases.
Hepatitis is a common disease that inflames or infects the liver, a vital organ that performs essential functions for your body’s metabolism, protection, and regulation. People can get the disease from taking illegal drugs or medicines, drinking too much alcohol, or medical complications. A viral hepatitis virus, however, causes most cases. Its most common forms are hepatitis A, B, and C.
What are the symptoms?
The tricky part about hepatitis is that the disease sometimes shows no signs or symptoms. Those who exhibit the symptoms, however, generally suffer from poor appetite, yellowing of the eyes and skin, mild fever, nausea, and fatigue. More often than not, people with chronic hepatitis B and C experience no symptoms of the disease for many years, only to find out later that their livers have been damaged because of it.
What happens when you get infected?
Hepatitis A may be the most common type of hepatitis that people can get, but it is also generally a mild illness that typically goes away on its own. Most people who get this type will recover with no lasting effects. Hepatitis B and C, however, can cause severe long-term infection and complications. Both types can lead to severe diseases that include liver damage, liver cancer, and liver failure.
How are the diseases spread?
People can get hepatitis A by coming in contact with food or water contaminated by the feces of an infected person. This often happens when people fail to wash their hands properly after using the toilet or do not follow proper sanitary practices when preparing food.
Contaminated fruits, vegetables, shellfish, and ice cubes are the most common carriers of the hepatitis A virus. People who are affected by the disease can spread it to others for about a month.
Hepatitis B is transmitted through direct contact with infected blood or bodily fluids like semen. It’s most often spread from one infected person to an uninfected person through unprotected sex and sharing needles or syringes. It’s also possible for infected mothers to pass the virus to their babies during childbirth.
Lastly, people can get hepatitis C through direct contact with infected blood. This can happen during blood transfusions, sharing needles to inject drugs, using unsterilized nail clippers, and getting a tattoo with a contaminated needle. Infected mothers can also pass the virus to their babies at birth.
Who are at risk?
Children and adults alike can get hepatitis. For hepatitis A, people who travel to areas where there are recent outbreaks of the disease are at a higher risk. Those who eat raw foods or drink tap water are also the most vulnerable.
Teenagers and young adults have a high risk of getting hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Aside from them, doctors, nurses, and healthcare and safety workers who are exposed to blood, dialysis, and pre-dialysis patients can also get it. People who have multiple sex partners, inject illegal drugs, drink too much alcohol, and live with an infected person can also contract it.
How to protect against the disease?
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and boosting your immunity are some of the strongest defenses against hepatitis. You can protect your liver by making sure that everything you take in is thoroughly clean. This entails cooking your food properly and thoroughly, double-checking if the water you are drinking is clean, and thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water as many times as you can, especially after using the bathroom.
As they say, too much of anything is bad. Drink alcohol moderately, or if you can, avoid it completely. This is recommended if a family member has suffered from liver disease, as this could mean that you are also likely to have it if you become careless.
Lower your risks of contracting the disease by not getting tattoos or body piercings, not injecting illegal drugs, and not using needles. Especially crucial for teenagers and adults are consistently practicing safe sex, always using condoms, and being careful if a partner has been diagnosed with hepatitis.
Getting vaccinated is also one of the best forms of protection. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection says children aged 12 to 23 months and those who are traveling or working in high-risk areas should get hepatitis A vaccination. All infants at birth and all adults who are highly vulnerable should get hepatitis B vaccination.
There is no vaccination yet for hepatitis C, but infected people must take extra measures to keep their livers safe and healthy. People who contract the disease should immediately consult with doctors and experts on the right type of medications and supplements. Be diligent in going to the doctor for regular monitoring to effectively deal with the virus and prevent it from getting worse.