Tomorrow, July 28, 2022, marks World Hepatitis Day (WHD), which is commemorated in over 100 countries with a myriad of events.
Annually, the WHO and the World Hepatitis Alliance publish a joint report on such commemorative events across the world.
Each year, a theme is chosen for the commemorations and the theme for the 2022 event is “I Can't Wait”, a modification of the 2021 theme which read, “Hepatitis can’t wait.”
Accordingly, this piece is meant to remind or perhaps educate the reading public about hepatitis. Indeed, comprehensive knowledge of a disease is necessary to preventing or fighting it.
The piece is equally meant to encourage those living with the disease to soldier on in good health despite its devastating effects on them .
History and relevance
Initially, various European and Middle Eastern patient groups inaugurated International Hepatitis C Awareness Day on October 1, 2004, and they continued marking the event on disparate dates until May 2010 when the 63rd World Health Assembly endorsed July 28 as WHD.
This date (July 28) was chosen as WHD because it is the birthday of Dr Baruch Blumberg (1925–2011), who discovered the hepatitis ‘B’ virus in 1967, and developed the first hepatitis ‘B’ vaccine two years later. Consequently, Dr Blumberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1976.
Since 2010 therefore, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and many other organisations as well as countries across the globe have commemorated WHD to raise awareness of viral hepatitis, which, according to the WHO, impacts more than 354 million people worldwide.
The WHD is also used to educate people about the burden of the various hepatitis viruses, global efforts to combat viral hepatitis, and actions people can take individually to prevent these infections.
The day is also meant to provide greater understanding of the disease, which is a global public health problem.
Several distinct infections are collectively referred to as viral hepatitis. Worldwide, the term hepatitis denotes liver inflammation primarily caused by hepatotropic viruses, resulting in similar clinical presentations.
The liver is a vital bodily organ, which processes nutrients, filters the blood, and fights infections. Liver inflammation or damage thus impedes liver function.
Heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications, and certain medical conditions are inimical to effective liver function.
Usually, the clinical presentation of acute (short-term) infection may range from asymptomatic sub clinical illness to fulminant hepatic failure.
Clinical case definition of a suspected case of viral hepatitis is based on patient history. It is thus defined as a patient with sudden or insidious onset of fever with malaise, anorexia (lack or loss of appetite for food), nausea, vomiting and abdominal discomfort, followed by jaundice within a few days.
The viral hepatitis virus is found in blood and certain bodily fluids. It is spread when a person who is not immune comes in contact with blood or body fluids from an infected person.
As such, history of high-risk sexual behaviour or contact with infected blood indicates a parenteral transmission which refers to the process of acquiring an infectious agent into one's body through something other than the gastrointestinal route.
Originally, the hepatitis virus was called the "Australia Antigen" because it was named after an Australian aborigine's blood sample that reacted with an antibody in the serum of an American hemophilia patient.
Five hepatitis viruses have been identified. These are hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. Each virus type is distinct and spreads in different ways, affecting different populations with diverse health outcomes.
The Hepatitis A virus spreads through the blood and stool of infected persons. It spreads when people unknowingly ingest the virus even in microscopic amounts. The best way to prevent hepatitis A is to get vaccinated.
Hepatitis B is also vaccine-preventable liver infection, which spreads when blood, semen, or other body fluids from an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact; sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment; or from mother to baby at birth. There is hepatitis B vaccine for all ages.
Hepatitis C is a liver infection, which spreads through contact with blood from an infected person. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, so the best preventive method is to avoid lifestyles that can spread the disease.
Hepatitis D, also known as “delta hepatitis,” occurs only in people who are also infected with the hepatitis B virus, and it spreads through infected blood or other body fluids. There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis D.
Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is found in the stool of an infected person. It spreads through contaminated water, food, and faecal matter. The HEV has no vaccine.
Viral hepatitis poses devastating health consequences for individuals, families and communities, and threatens to overwhelm health systems.
The socioeconomic costs associated with the disease makes its prevention and control a major development imperative for the 21st century.
Accordingly, it is worth highlighting the devasting effects of hepatitis in no less a medium than the Daily Graphic, mother of all newspapers in Ghana and to preach as well as encourage adherence to the recommended preventive measures.
On this note, I request from the Ghanaian virologists to be vigorous and incessant in their empirical studies of hepatitis with the aim of finding vaccines for the non-vaccine preventive types such as Hepatitis C, D and E while the pharmaceutical society of Ghana also works tirelessly to find affordable and efficacious medications for managing the disease. To my mind, this is one of the definite ways of making the concept of universal health coverage a reality.