28th July is World Hepatitis Day. How much do you know about hepatitis? Let's take a closer look.
400 million people worldwide live with hepatitis and 1.4 million people die each year from it, which is truly shocking. Hepatitis is a viral inflammation of the liver. The liver is important because it cleans your body's waste; without it your system is poisoned.
Chronic hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis and cancer so it's worth knowing what it is and how to prevent it. Hepatitis can also be caused by heavy drinking and auto-immune disease.
You may already know there are several types of hepatitis, labelled from A to E. Brace yourself:
Hep A is the most common worldwide and is transmitted through food or water that's been contaminated by infected faeces. It can also be contracted by eating sewage-infected shellfish. There is a vaccine for Hep A, but the body is often able to clear the infection by itself.
Hep B is contracted through infected body fluids such as semen, blood, saliva or sometimes via childbirth. There is a vaccine and some anti-viral drugs available to treat the condition. Hep B can turn into a serious lifelong condition that causes liver cirrhosis and cancer.
Hep C is the most common hepatitis in the UK. It's usually passed on through blood contact or more rarely sex or childbirth. Symptoms are usually mild and most pass them off as a cold or flu, but Hep C can turn into a chronic condition too.
Hep D is contracted through blood contact. It's only found in people with Hep B as it needs the Hep B virus to survive. It's uncommon in the UK.
Hep E is transmitted through contaminated food and water. It's rare in the UK and usually passes for a cold or flu.
Symptoms of hepatitis are much like flu.
It's pretty obvious, but don't drink water from unsafe sources. In the UK we have safe tap water, but if you go abroad don't drink unless you're sure it's safe. The same goes for seafood. Hepatitis is most common in the Indian subcontinent, Africa, Central and South America, the Far East and Eastern Europe, so pay proper attention there. Hep B, C and D are spread via body fluids so make sure you have protected sex with condoms. You must also be aware of sharing wash material such as razors, nail clippers, scissors or anything that can break the skin.
If you get a tattoo or piercing you need to make sure the establishment is safe and regulated. Check out their facilities beforehand. If you share drug taking needles you risk contracting hepatitis.
For more information about hepatitis, visit worldhepatisisday.org.