Viral hepatitis is rated as a global scourge

July 8, 2016 Providence Health Team

Viral hepatitis has become one of the world’s leading killers, surpassing HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, according to recent studies.

The disease, which includes hepatitis A, B, C, D and E, killed 1.45 million people globally in 2013, researchers said. That figure is 63 percent higher than the total in 1990.

“The enormous health loss attributable to viral hepatitis, and the availability of effective vaccines and treatments, suggests an important opportunity to improve public health,” the researchers wrote.

Global eradication campaign

Health workers, activists and entire governments are kicking off a campaign to eliminate the disease by 2030, beginning July 28 with World Hepatitis Day.

The campaign is intended to bring the disease out of the shadows and treat it as a deadly global health challenge. By raising awareness of the threat posed by various types of viral hepatitis, activists hope to increase the number of people being tested and treated for the disease, which can be carried without causing symptoms.

“The time has come for a coherent public health response,” according to the World Health Organization.

What it is, how it spreads

Viral hepatitis is an infection that inflames or scars the liver. In the United States, common types are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Viral hepatitis can be passed in many ways, including:

  • Eating food prepared by an infected person who didn’t wash his or her hands after using the bathroom
  • Touching diaper changing tables that aren’t properly cleaned
  • Eating raw shellfish from sewage-contaminated water
  • Sharing needles or razors with an infected person
  • Bodily fluids, including blood and semen, shared with an infected person
  • From an infected mother to baby during childbirth

Troublingly, many people are infected with viral hepatitis and don’t know it. Experts say less than 1 percent of infected people worldwide receive treatment.

Many people with viral hepatitis show no symptoms. But when symptoms are shown, they can include:

  • Low-grade fever
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Jaundice, or a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain

Because many people show no symptoms, caregivers encourage people to be screened if they may be at risk for viral hepatitis.

More reading

To learn more about viral hepatitis, see the discussion in the Providence Health Library.

The article, which appeared in The Lancet, can be found here.

You can read fact sheets and details of the campaign to eliminate the disease at the World Hepatitis Day site.

Talk with your health care provider about whether you should get a screening. If you don’t have a provider, you can find find a Providence provider here.

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