More than 300 million people, globally, are living with hepatitis and at least 250 million of those living with hepatitis have no idea that they have the virus. Why is this?
Hepatitis does not necessarily produce symptoms, especially in the early stages, and therefore people can live with it for a long time before realising they have it. Early diagnosis is also made difficult due to several other factors.
Hepatitis is a condition that causes inflammation of the liver due, in most cases, to viral infection. It can, however, be autoimmune hepatitis that occurs when the body’s antibodies begin to fight the liver.
Other possible risk factors of hepatitis include excessive alcohol consumption, the use of certain drugs and exposure to toxins. The liver is the largest internal organ in the body and its roles include:
- Producing bile, which is essential for digestion,
- Excreting bilirubin,
- Synthesising blood proteins and clotting factors,
- Filtering toxins from the body, and
- Activating enzymes essential in aiding functions of the body. There are 5 different types of the hepatitis virus which create a global health burden, especially types B and C which lead to chronic disease and are the main causes of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. The other types of hepatitis are A, D and E; types A and E being transmitted through contaminated food and water while D is transmitted through blood or bodily fluids of an infected person.
The lives of over a million people are claimed by viral hepatitis every year and to stop these deaths, more awareness is required not just about getting tested but also about prevention. There are several ways in which you can help prevent yourself from getting hepatitis, such as:
- Avoiding eating street food
- Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption and use of illegal drugs especially those that are injected into the body
- Avoiding uncooked food especially meat and fish
- Ensuring you wash your hand after using the toilet and changing diapers before you prepare, serve or eat food.
- Washing vegetables and fruits thoroughly with clean water before cooking them or eating them raw
- Drinking boiled water or bottled water
- Not sharing piercing objects like needles and personal items like toothbrushes
- Practising safe sex by using protection.
All these are ways you can prevent or reduce your risk of contracting hepatitis. However, the best way to do this (which is also the focus of this article) is through vaccination. Some types of hepatitis such as hepatitis A and B can be vaccinated against. While hepatitis C, although it does not have a vaccine, is curable.
Hepatitis A Vaccine
Hepatitis A can causes mild to severe illness and most people who get the virus recover fully but there are those who lose their lives due to the infection. The Hep A virus is contacted through contaminated water and food and apart from improving sanitation and practising food safety and drinking clean
boiled water, you can protect yourself from this virus by getting vaccinated against it.
The Hep A vaccine is available for children from the age of one year. The vaccine is given in 2 doses – the 1st at one year and the next 6-12 months later. People above one year can also get the vaccine, especially recommended before travelling to a new place.
Hepatitis B Vaccine
Hepatitis B can cause acute or chronic liver disease. Avoiding contact with blood and other bodily fluids of a person infected with Hep B can help but you can also try to get the vaccine if it is available. The vaccine is given in 3-4 doses; at birth, at 1 month, at 2 months and the last between 1-12 months later. Apart from the vaccine given at birth, children and adolescents living in areas that have a high hepatitis B prevalence should be vaccinated.
Aside from children, other groups of people who should get vaccinated against hepatitis B and C include:
- People who inject drugs,
- People with multiple sex partners,
- Healthcare workers and other people who are exposed to blood and blood products through their work, and
- People who require blood and blood products frequently, organ transplant recipients and dialysis patients.
Getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B is crucial in reducing the number of deaths which occur as a result of hepatitis-related health problems. For the types of hepatitis that do not have a vaccine, such as hepatitis C, you should take the measures necessary to help prevent yourself from contacting the virus.
If you have children, you should try to ensure they get vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B. Having regular hepatitis screening is also advisable, especially for people who live in areas where they are at a high risk of contracting the virus or who are in the group of people listed above at high risk of contracting Hep B and C.
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