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World Hepatitis Day 2022: What to know about risk, diagnosis, and care

World Hepatitis Day takes place each year on July 28 as a way to raise awareness of the global burden of viral hepatitis and bring about change. It’s held on this date to honor the birthdate of Dr. Baruch Blumberg (1925-2011), who discovered the hepatitis B virus in 1967, later developed the first hepatitis B vaccine, and went on to win the Nobel Prize for his achievements.

This year’s theme — “I Can’t Wait” — serves as a call to action and a reminder of the startling fact that every 30 seconds, a life is lost to a hepatitis-related illness. In addition to the campaign’s message of “we can’t wait to act on viral hepatitis,” the World Hepatitis Alliance adds calls for the following:

  • People living with viral hepatitis unaware can’t wait for testing
  • People living with hepatitis can’t wait for life saving treatments
  • Expectant mothers can’t wait for hepatitis screening and treatment
  • Newborn babies can’t wait for birth dose vaccination
  • People affected by hepatitis can’t wait to end stigma and discrimination
  • Community organizations can’t wait for greater investment
  • Decision makers can’t wait and must act now to make hepatitis elimination a reality through political will and funding.

What are the different types of hepatitis occurring around the world?

To understand what can be done to end viral hepatitis, it’s important to start by recognizing the differences between the groups of infectious diseases. There are five hepatitis viruses: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatitis D, and hepatitis E, and each are distinct — meaning they each can spread in different ways, affect different populations, and result in varying health outcomes, according to the CDC.

Hepatitis A

According to the CDC, Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV) that is found in the stool and blood of people who are infected. Hepatitis A is very contagious and spreads when someone unknowingly ingests the virus through close personal contact with an infected person, or through eating contaminated food or drink. Symptoms of hepatitis A can last up to 2 months and include fatigue, nausea, stomach pain, and jaundice. Most people with hepatitis A do not have a long-lasting illness and the best way to prevent hepatitis A is to get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

According to the CDC, hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) that is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluids from a person infected with the virus 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. Not all people newly infected with HBV have symptoms, but symptoms can include fatigue, poor appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice.

For many people, hepatitis B is a short-term illness, but for others it can become a long-term, chronic infection that can lead to serious, even life-threatening, health issues such as cirrhosis(heavy scarring and dysfunction of the liver) or liver cancer. The risk for chronic infection is related to age of acquiring infection: about 90% of infants with hepatitis B go on to develop chronic infection, whereas only 2%–6% of people who get hepatitis B as adults become chronically infected. The best way to prevent hepatitis B is to get vaccinated.

Hepatitis C

According to the CDC, hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) that is spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Today, most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment used to prepare and inject drugs. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness, but for more than half of people who become infected with the hepatitis C virus, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C can result in serious and even life-threatening health problems like cirrhosis and liver cancer. People with chronic hepatitis C often have no symptoms and don’t feel sick, but when symptoms appear, they often are a sign of advanced liver disease. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C so the best way to prevent hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs. Getting tested for hepatitis C is important, as treatment can cure most people with hepatitis C in 8 to 12 weeks.

Hepatitis D

According to the CDC, hepatitis D is also known as “delta hepatitis,” and is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV) that occurs in people who are also infected with the hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis D is spread when blood or other body fluids from a person infected with the virus enters the body of someone who is not infected and can either be an acute, short-term infection or become a long-term, chronic infection. Hepatitis D can cause severe symptoms and serious illness that can lead to life-long liver damage and even death and for those who can become infected with both hepatitis B and hepatitis D viruses at the same time — known as “coinfection” — or get hepatitis D after first being infected with the hepatitis B virus — known as “superinfection.” There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis D, but prevention of hepatitis B with hepatitis B vaccine also protects against hepatitis D infection.

Hepatitis E

According to the CDC, hepatitis E is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV). HEV is found in the stool of an infected person and is spread when someone unknowingly ingests the virus, even in microscopic amounts. In developing countries, people most often get hepatitis E from drinking water contaminated by feces from people who are infected with the virus. In the United States and other developed countries where hepatitis E is not common, people have gotten sick with hepatitis E after eating raw or undercooked pork, venison, wild boar meat, or shellfish. In the past, most cases in developed countries involved people who have recently traveled to countries where hepatitis E is common. Symptoms of hepatitis E can include fatigue, poor appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice but for many people with hepatitis E, especially young children, will have no symptoms. Except for the rare occurrences of chronic hepatitis E in people with compromised immune systems, most people recover fully from the disease without any complications. There is no vaccine for hepatitis E is currently available in the United States.

What can you do to help act on viral hepatitis?

With the recognition of World Hepatitis Day here, the World Hepatitis Alliance has put together a resource list of ways to get involved ranging from downloadable social media graphics, to prompts for sharing within your local policymakers. In terms of what you can do for your health, getting tested for hepatitis C is something you can do now.

While the hepatitis C virus (HCV) can be sexually transmitted, it’s more commonly spread through exposure to infected blood, such as sharing needles or getting a tattoo with unsterilized equipment). An estimated 2.4 million people in the U.S. live with hepatitis C, and 3 out of 4 were born during the “Boomer” generation (1945–1965). In fact, Boomers are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than people of any other generation, possibly due to exposure to clotting factor concentrates made before 1987 or blood transfusions before 1992, when the introduction of widespread screening measures virtually eliminated the virus from the medical blood supply. You can learn more about this from the CDC.

If you think you may have been exposed to hepatitis C, it is recommended that you talk with a healthcare professional. The CDC recommends screening at least once for hepatitis C if you were born between 1945 and 1965. The CDC also recommends screening for hepatitis C if you’re currently injecting drugs or have ever injected drugs, if you’ve ever received a blood transfusion or organ transplant (especially before 1992), or if you’ve ever had a medical condition that required clotting factor concentrates. If your risk factors change or you know you’ve been exposed to HCV, you should repeat screening immediately, as well as notify your healthcare provider.


Wanting to test with us? Everlywell’s Hepatitis C Test is used to detect the presence or absence of Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies to the hepatitis C virus (HCV).Your test results will tell you whether or not you have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus (HCV). In the event that your test results are abnormal, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with our independent physician network at no additional cost to discuss your particular case.


Living with hepatitis C: what are the health risks?

Hepatitis B vs. C: What Are the Differences?

Signs and symptoms of hepatitis C in women


References:

1. World Hepatitis Day (July 28). HSS.gov. URL. Accessed July 11, 2022.

2. World Hepatitis Day. World Hepatitis Alliance. URL. Accessed July 11, 2022.

3. World Hepatitis Day — July 28th. CDC. URL. Accessed July 11, 2022.

4. World Hepatitis Day: Get involved. World Hepatitis Alliance. URL. Accessed July 11, 2022.

5. Learn more about hepatitis C and getting tested. CDC. URL. Accessed July 11, 2022.

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