On July 28, patients and advocates around the world will mark World Hepatitis Day. Almost 400 million people are infected with the Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C virus. Though they are different viruses, both can lead to liver damage, cirrhosis, and liver cancer.
Hep B is a bloodborne or sexually transmitted virus. Most people with Hep B were infected by exposure to blood at the time of birth or in early childhood. There is an effective vaccine to prevent Hep B, but the vaccine is relatively expensive, and is not available in much of the world. In the U.S. the Hep B vaccine has been recommended for infants at birth for decades, so most young people are immune. The majority of people who have Hep B in the U.S. were born in one of the countries where Hep B is common and came to the U.S. with the infection.
Hep B can be treated to slow the progression to serious liver disease, however the treatment is also costly.
Hep C is a blood borne virus. The two most common risks for Hep C globally are exposure to infected blood in a health care setting, or sharing of drug use equipment that has infected blood on it. In many areas of the world there is not enough funding in the health care system to support stringent infection control in health care -- so syringes are reused on several people, or blood transfusions can be contaminated. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to protect against Hep C, so avoiding blood contact is the only prevention. Hep C can be treated and cured, however the treatment is currently costly.
On World Hepatitis Day, people around the world call upon the World Health Organization and governments to work to eliminate these viral infections. To achieve elimination, the World Hepatitis Alliance promotes greater awareness, increased diagnosis, and important interventions including: universal vaccination, blood and injection safety, harm reduction services and treatment.
Get involved in World Hepatitis Day - Support the campaign
Go to the World Hepatitis Day campaign webpage and share information with your own social networks to help raise awareness.
Encourage people at risk to be tested
Get vaccinated against Hep B
Nirah is a clinical social worker and public health professional who has been raising awareness about Hepatitis C and liver health in NYC since 2007. She organizes the Hep Free NYC network, @HepFreeNYC