Prevent hepatitis. Act now.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, with serious health consequences. There are more than two billion people throughout the world with hepatitis making it a global health priority.
July 28 is World Hepatitis Day, one of only eight global health priority days designated by the World Health Organisation.
By far the most common form of hepatitis is hep B, but hep C and hep A are also common. In Australia, there are half a million people with hepatitis and 68,000 Queenslanders with a form of the condition. Unfortunately, many people may not be aware they have hepatitis.
Hepatitis is caused by a range of viruses. Hep A is primarily contracted by faecal contamination of food or water, which is why it’s important to wash fruit and vegetables before eating. It is also spread from person to person, which is why hand washing is important.
The more serious forms of hepatitis, hep B and C, are transferred through blood such as sharing needles and injecting equipment, or unsterile tattooing equipment. Hepatitis B can also be spread by sexual contact or from mother to baby.
The hepatitis viruses can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term) infections, but many times there are no initially signs or symptoms of illness. Hepatitis A and B can be prevented with vaccination, but there is currently no effective treatment for people living with chronic hepatitis B.
Without treatment, hepatitis can lead to serious liver disease including cirrhosis, cancer and liver failure. Around 1000 Australians die from hepatitis related disease each year.
Hepatitis B rates are higher in many places outside Australia such as South East Asia (excluding Japan), Pacific Islands, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Australians travelling to high risk countries should talk to their doctor about a hepatitis vaccination before departing.
When travelling it is also important to practise safe sex, not share needles and ensure any tattooing and cosmetic procedures are performed using sterile techniques and equipment.
Within Australia, if you are at risk of hepatitis, it is important to know your hepatitis status so that your partners may be tested or immunised and to monitor your own health over time. Drug treatments are now also being developed for viruses causing hepatitis.