Health workers, activists and entire governments are taking aim this year at viral hepatitis, a widely misunderstood disease that kills 1.4 million people a year – more than malaria or HIV/AIDS. They seek to eliminate the disease by 2030, kicking off a global campaign July 28 with World Hepatitis Day.
The campaign is intended to bring the disease out of the shadows and treat it as a deadly global health challenge. By raising awareness of the threat posed by various types of viral hepatitis, activists hope to increase the number of people being tested and treated for the disease, which can be carried without causing symptoms.
“The time has come for a coherent public health response,” according to the World Health Organization.
What it is, how it spreads
Viral hepatitis is an infection that inflames or scars the liver. In the United States, common types are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Viral hepatitis can be passed in many ways, including:
- Eating food prepared by an infected person who didn’t wash his hands after using the bathroom
- Touching diaper changing tables that aren’t properly cleaned
- Eating raw shellfish from sewage-contaminated water
- Sharing needles or razors with an infected person
- Sharing bodily fluids, including blood and semen, with an infected person
- From an infected mother to baby during childbirth.
Troublingly, many people are infected with viral hepatitis and don’t know it. Activists say less than 1 percent of infected people worldwide receive treatment.
Many people with viral hepatitis show no symptoms. But when symptoms are shown, they can include:
- Low-grade fever
- Muscle aches
- Jaundice, or a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
- Stomach pain
Because many people show no symptoms, caregivers encourage people to be screened if they may be at risk for viral hepatitis. Discuss this with your health care provider.