“Find the Missing Millions”. orld Hepatitis Day is commemorated each year on 28 July to enhance awareness of viral hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that causes a range of health problems, including liver cancer. In 2020, on World Hepatitis Day, the theme is
There are five main strains of the hepatitis virus – A, B, C, D and E. Together, hepatitis B and C are the most common cause of deaths. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, viral hepatitis continues to claim thousands of lives every day. Nearly 1.3 million deaths occur annually due to viral hepatitis worldwide, with 300 million people living with the disease, unaware of their infection status. In 2016, WHO launched the campaign “Eliminate Hepatitis by 2030”.
Screening and early detection are the only ways to tackle this silent killer, since liver damage in chronic viral hepatitis progresses without symptoms till it reaches the terminal illness stage, as either liver cancer or liver cirrhosis. Vaccination is, however, available for Hepatitis A and B viruses.
Many people mistakenly think hepatitis means viral hepatitis, and that all forms of hepatitis are contagious. Actually, the word hepatitis refers to any inflammation of the liver — the irritation or swelling of the liver cells from any cause. Hepatitis can be acute (inflammation of the liver that presents with sickness — jaundice, fever, vomiting) or chronic (inflammation of the liver that lasts more than six months, but essentially asymptomatic) and has many different causes.
It is usually caused by a group of viruses known as the “hepatotropic” (liver directed) viruses, including A, B, C, D and E. Other viruses may also cause it, such as those that cause mononucleosis (the Epstein-Barr virus) or chicken pox (the Varicella virus). Hepatitis also refers to inflammation of the liver caused by drugs and alcohol abuse or toxins in the environment. In addition, people can develop hepatitis from other causes such as fat buildup in the liver called “fatty liver hepatitis” or NASH (Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis) or an autoimmune process in which a person’s body makes antibodies that attack the liver (autoimmune hepatitis).
HAV and HEV are self-limiting diseases and require no specific antiviral medications. Only supportive care and careful monitoring is all that is needed. There are effective medications available to treat HBV and HCV. Treatment can help to protect from serious liver damage. Effective medications are available for both HCV and HBV in the injectable form as well as tablets. The conventional one-year-long injectable medicines for HCV have been replaced by oral medications and the duration of treatment shortened to just 12 weeks. Early diagnosis is crucial because the sooner treatment is started, further liver damage can be arrested.