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July 28th: World Hepatitis Day

July 28th is World Hepatitis Day. Once again, the aim of this day is to raise awareness of hepatitis, inform people of how it is spread, what can be done to prevent it, and how to treat it.

There are two major forms of hepatitis, type B and type C. While they are much the same thing, an infection in the liver, they are contracted and treated in different ways. Hepatitis B is much more infectious, and can be spread through unprotected sex especially, and can even be spread through kissing. While it is easy to spread, it is also easy to prevent. There are vaccinations against hepatitis B, so if you think that you may be at risk, contact your GP about getting vaccinated. But apart from this, one of the easiest ways to help stop the spreading of hepatitis is to wear a condom. Safe sex massively reduces the risk of contracting the virus. Some misconceptions about hepatitis B are that you can catch it from things such as shaking hands with a person infected, or using the toilet after them. This is not true; the only way that the virus can be contracted is through displacement of bodily fluids, such as semen/vaginal fluid, blood and saliva.

Hepatitis C, while being a lot less infectious, is a lot harder to treat and still affects 170 million people worldwide. Unlike hepatitis B, hepatitis C can only be contracted through blood transfer, although in some rare cases it has been noted to be transferred through having unprotected sex. Hepatitis C cannot be passed on through kissing however.

Most often, hepatitis B will go away on its own after 6 months of getting it. However, 1 in 10 cases will go on to become chronic hepatitis B, which if left untreated can become liver cirrhosis, and after up to 40 years, liver cancer; please note that in some cases it could develop into liver cancer as early as 5 years after contracting the virus.

Hepatitis C is a lot rarer to go away on its own, with 4 in 5 cases developing into chronic hepatitis. This too can develop into liver cirrhosis, and then liver cancer, usually within 15-30 years after contracting it.

While there are typically not many symptoms, here is a list of possible symptoms, and it is recommended that if you experience two or more of these for a prolonged period of time (3-4 weeks), you should see your GP:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
  • Stomach ache
  • Diarrhoea/dark urine/light-coloured stools (poo)
  • Aching muscles and joints
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Poor concentration
  • Loss of appetite

Hepatitis A, though very common, is the least lethal, with only 0.5% of cases turning into chronic hepatitis. It is spread through many means, such as dirty drinking water, or contaminated food. It is typically confined to young children of undeveloped countries, and often has no symptoms, and will go away on its own after around 6 months. However, in developed countries young adults are also at risk, particularly those who visit undeveloped countries, but still it typically goes away after 6 months. Having had hepatitis A, and overcoming it, you will usually then become immune to that strand of the virus; however, in some cases you can have what is called a relapse of the virus up to 6 months after it going away, but again this typically will go away on its own after a further 6 months. It is still recommended that you do go and see your GP if you suspect having hepatitis A.

If you have any concerns about hepatitis, or would like to support the cause, or even hold your own event regarding the awareness day, then please visit the world hepatitis alliance website where you can download information packs, and get advice on treatments and other things to do with hepatitis.