Written by: Kathy Watt, PhD, NP-C
Kathy is a family nurse practitioner and has a doctorate in counseling psychology. She currently works at the GVSU Family Health Center.
July 28th is designated as World Hepatitis Day. This past May the World Health Assembly developed an aggressive “Elimination Strategy for Viral Hepatitis”. The goal is to end viral hepatitis by the year 2030.
Hepatitis is a condition of the liver which causes inflammation, necrosis and, if untreated, can lead to liver failure and/or cancer. The liver performs many vital functions to the body including digestion, metabolism and immunity. The liver plays an important role in detoxifying the body. When a person becomes infected with hepatitis, the liver’s ability to carry out these functions is impaired. Some people have few symptoms, whereas others experience signs and symptoms that may include fatigue, flu-like symptoms, abdominal discomfort, rashes, tea-colored urine or clay colored stools, easy bruising, and yellowing of the skin or eyes. There are many types of conditions that can cause hepatitis. These include autoimmune conditions, genetic and metabolic causes, as well as using alcohol, medications, herbs and exposure to certain viruses.
According to the World Health Alliance, there are ten million people newly infected with viral hepatitis in the world. Of those living with the disease, 95% are unaware of their illness. Less than 1% seek access to treatment. There are 1.4 million people who die each year from hepatitis. There are approximately 500 million people who are living with either hepatitis B or C.
In the US alone there are close to 1.4 million people living with hepatitis B and as many as 3.9 million people living with hepatitis C. Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person. It can be spread during childbirth, through sharing razors or toothbrushes, having unprotected sex and sharing needles and syringes. There is a vaccination for hepatitis B which is very effective in preventing its infection. Hepatitis C is spread mainly through blood to blood contact such as unsafe sterilization of medical equipment and unsafe injection practices. A significant number of people with hepatitis C belong to the baby boomer generation born from 1945 -1965. These people may have been infected in the 70’s and 80’s when the rates of Hepatitis C were at its highest.
Existing hepatitis services seldom address the critical underlying factors that can generate health inequalities. Such factors include poverty, discrimination, and poor mental health. Ending hepatitis epidemics is feasible with tools and approaches that are currently available. These include: vaccines, providing sterile injecting equipment and effective drug treatments, and safer sex practices. Other prevention strategies include adequate water sanitation services as well as food safety.
There are now treatments for both hepatitis B and C that are very effective. There are also a number of resources available. It is important that individuals play an active role in their own health and ask their provider if they require testing.
If you or someone you know is in need of a healthcare provider, please call the GVSU Family Health Center located on 72 Sheldon Blvd. SE, Grand Rapids, MI. Our phone number is 616-988-8774.