World Hepatitis Day: Think Again

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Published: July 28, 2014

Health + Wellness

Today, July 28th, is World Hepatitis Day and together with other health advocates, Radiant Health Magazine reminds you to “Think Again” (about Hepatitis).

When you hear the word “Hepatitis” what do you think of? If you are like most people, you automatically think of Jaundice, the yellowing of the skin which is a tell-tale sign of the disease. However, beyond Jaundice, did you know that Hepatitis kills over 1.4 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of liver cancer? It affects people across all socioeconomic and racial lines and oftentimes presents with symptoms that can go unnoticed.

What is Hepatitis and What Causes It?

Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver often caused by viruses and toxic substances such as alcohol and medications. Symptoms often appear suddenly and may include weakness, fever, dark urine, extreme fatigue, poor appetite and abdominal discomfort. After a few days, the skin and eyes become jaundiced (yellow). Mild cases of the disease last 1-2 weeks while severe cases can last for years, advance to liver failure or liver cancer and eventually cause death.

Types of Hepatitis

There are 5 known types of Hepatitis:

Hepatitis A Virus (HAV): Commonly affecting children, HAV is present in the faeces of infected people and transmitted through eating contaminated food and water. Occasionally, the virus can be transmitted through risky sexual behaviour. There is currently no treatment for HAV but a vaccination is available. Fortunately, fatality from this virus is rare.

Hepatitis B Virus (HBV): The main cause of HBV is exposure to infected blood, semen and other bodily fluids. Exposure can be through blood transfusion, sharing needles, sexual contact and accidentally getting stuck by an infected needle. In addition, an infected mother can pass the virus on to her baby at birth. Left untreated, HBV infections can become lifelong and cause severe complications such as liver cancer and liver failure. Fortunately, a lifetime vaccination against HBV is available in a series of 2-3 shots. While a treatment is available, it may not be available in all parts of Nigeria.

Hepatitis C Virus (HCV): Also caused by exposure to infected blood and bodily fluids, HCV is a long term infection that is usually diagnosed decades after infection often manifesting itself in the form of liver failure. There is currently no vaccination for the virus so prevention is key.

Hepatitis D Virus (HDV): This form of Hepatitis is rare and only affects those who are already infected with HBV. Together, HDV and HBV can evolve into serious complications and cause death. Avoiding high risk behaviour and getting vaccinated against HBV can prevent contraction of the disease.

Hepatitis E Virus (HEV): Common in Nigeria and most of the developing world, HEV is linked to inadequate water supplies and poor sanitation. An infected person initially feels sick but symptoms improve within a short period of time. HEV rarely causes long term infection. A vaccine was recently created but it is not yet widely available.

What can you do to protect yourself?

  1. Practice good hygiene, ensuring good hand washing after using the toilet and before handling food.
  2. Throw away waste in appropriate areas and avoid contaminating drinking water sources
  3. Use drinking and cooking water from safe sources or follow procedures to ensure that water is safe.
  4. Get vaccinated.
  5. If you are a diasporian visiting Nigeria from places where Hepatitis A is rare, consider getting vaccinated against it.
  6. Use Latex condoms
  7. Don’t share personal items such as toothbrushes, razors and nail cutters
  8. Don’t share drug needles

Today is World Hepatitis Day, let’s talk about it. Let’s “Think Again”. Let’s #thinkhepatitis.

Here’s to your health.

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About Cordialis Msora-Kasago

Cordialis Msora-Kasago is a Registered Dietitian (R.D) and a pioneer in the discussion of modern day healthy lifestyles in Africa. She is the founder of The African Pot Nutrition - an organization that improves the health of African people through sustainable diet and lifestyle programs. Follow her on twitter @africadietitian.

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