9 things you might not know about hepatitis

28 July is World Hepatitis Day, which aims to raise global awareness of this infectious disease.


Did you know that hepatitis is the eighth largest killer in the world, with an average of 1.34 million people dying from the disease each year?  According to the World Hepatitis Alliance, it is estimated that 300 million people worldwide are living with viral hepatitis and are unaware that they have the disease.

What is hepatitis?

“Hepatitis is an inflammatory disease of the liver. The most common cause is infection by one of the hepatitis viruses. However, it can also be caused by other infections, medications, alcohol, toxic substances and certain autoimmune diseases,” says Jackie Maimin, CEO of the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA).

Here are 9 more facts that you might not have known about:

Not all forms are related to risky habits

Not all types of the hepatitis virus are spread through direct exchange of bodily fluids. Of the five different types, Hepatitis A and E are spread through contaminated food or water, while types B, C and D are transmitted through blood and body fluids.

ALSO SEE: Sexually transmitted diseases and your pregnancy – what to expect

Most people don’t realise they have it

Sometimes, hepatitis can be hard to detect because it starts out with mild, flu-like symptoms including fever, fatigue, and body aches. It can take weeks or months before you see symptoms like a skin rash, loss of appetite, weight loss, and the trademark yellowing of the skin and eyes known as jaundice. For some people, these symptoms take years to develop − or they won’t show up at all, particularly when it comes to hepatitis C.

Contaminated water and food are risky

Hepatitis A and E are both considered acute viral diseases. Most people recover completely without long-term damage. However, the infections can be more serious in people who already have liver disease. Both viruses are transmitted through food or drinking water that’s been contaminated with the virus.

Some forms of Hepatitis can lead to cancer

Unless treated properly, inflammation from chronic hepatitis can lead to cell damage and, eventually, liver cancer.

Drinking alcohol can make it worse

Drinking too much alcohol can increase liver scarring and cause Hepatits to progress faster.

Pregnant women should be tested for one type

Maimin says that the most common cause of hepatitis B transmission globally is mother to infant. “If you’ve had the hepatitis B vaccine, you should be protected from catching the virus and later passing it on to your child. But, if you haven’t been vaccinated and are considering starting a family, now is a good time to visit your local community pharmacy to be vaccinated before you become pregnant.”

ALSO SEE: South Africans urged to ensure all vaccines are up to date

Two of the diseases are linked

People who already have chronic hepatitis B are at an increased risk of becoming infected with a second virus, hepatitis D, also called delta hepatitis. Hepatitis D is not treatable. “Once again, the best way to protect yourself is to get the hepatitis B vaccine, which, according to the World Health Organization, is up to 95% effective at preventing infections.”

The ICPA advise that people can protect themselves from hepatitis by doing the following:

  • Avoid contact with blood and bodily fluids by wearing gloves when touching or cleaning up other people’s blood, vomit or other body fluids.
  • Don’t share razors, toothbrushes, pierced earrings, or other personal items with anyone.
  • Use condoms if you have multiple sexual partners, or when having sex with an infected person.
  • Don’t share chewing gum.
  • Make certain any needles or other sharp implements for drugs, ear piercing, manicuring or tattooing are properly sterilized.
  • Be careful about the water you drink and food you eat when travelling abroad.
  • How healthy is your liver? Most people don’t think twice about the ceaseless work this essential organ does to break down fats, produce energy, store vitamins and minerals recycle blood cells, produce proteins essential for blood clotting and to cleanse your blood of alcohol and toxins.
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