July 28 is World Hepatitis Day. Worldwide 300 million people are living with viral hepatitis and are unaware. Without finding the undiagnosed and linking them to care, millions will continue to suffer.
Hepatitis A, B and C are a set of infections and diseases that affect the liver. It can have various degrees of treatability and severity depending on the type of hepatitis contracted.
Hepatitis A is a viral infection that affects the liver. It is spread through the fecal-oral route. Although they are considered rare in New Zealand, outbreaks do occasionally occur. This illness does not cause a chronic infection.
Hepatitis B is a viral disease that also affects the liver, but is much more infectious and can cause long term liver damage including liver failure and cancer. It cannot be cured however it can be prevented by vaccination. Hepatitis B and C are spread through contact with infected blood or body fluids, with the primary means of infection occurring through sexual contact or through open wounds.
There are more than 50,000 people in New Zealand with the hepatitis C virus, although it is estimated only half are currently diagnosed.
Hepatitis C can remain asymptomatic for decades. If diagnosed early, a person is able to make lifestyle changes that may help delay the onset of serious complications, undertake treatment to cure the disease, and take steps to ensure that they do not transmit it to someone else.
If left unchecked, 20–25% of infected individuals will develop cirrhosis of the liver. 3–5% will develop liver cancer each year. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplantation in New Zealand. Of the infected population, 50–60% remain undiagnosed and unaware of the risks associated with the disease.
Vaccines are available for hepatitis A & B, but not for Hepatitis C. Staff who are exposed to sewage, faecal matter or body fluids are most at risk.
Unless detected and treated, Hepatitis can cause liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer.
It’s the mission of World Hepatitis Day to find the missing millions of people who have not be diagnosed by raising awareness of Hepatitis in our communities and workplaces.