Hepatitis – Creating Awareness on Another ‘Killer’ Disease, by Aishat M. Abisola
Earlier this week, it was brought to my attention that this Monday (the 1st of August) was the last day for Hepatitis Awareness Week.
Upon further research, I learned that Hepatitis Awareness Week is observed from the 26th of July to the 1st of August, while World Hepatitis Day is on the 28th of July.
To be clear, everyone past the age of puberty is well aware of hepatitis and its danger to the body. Even if they aren’t quite aware of its dangers, they still know that it is very harmful to the body.
I was aware that there was a day specifically for hepatitis but I did not know that there was a week for it as well.
When I found out, it occurred that me that, “of course they have a week for it. Hepatitis is a disease that has a very long history worldwide so it makes sense.”
Hepatitis is a disease that is very entrenched in human history even before 1 A.D.
A few years ago, I wrote an essay on HIV/AIDS and compared the damages that it causes to other diseases. Hepatitis was one of the diseases that I had compared it to and thus I had learnt about its history, its effects on the body and ways that it can be treated by doctors.
As I said before, this disease has such a large presence on Human History and existed at least a few thousand years before the use of the Anno Domini calendar.
Around 3000 B.C., there were recorded accounts of illness that researchers believe is most likely hepatitis.
The ancient Sumerians had clay tablets which were also medical handbooks that described jaundice as a symptom of the illness. They recorded that the jaundice was a result of an attack to the liver by a devil (Ahhazu) as they believed that the liver was where a humans soul was housed.
In 400 B.C. Hippocrates (Greek Physician) had recorded and documented an outbreak of epidemic jaundice where a series of patients died within two weeks.
He said wrote that the bile in the liver was filled with phlegm and blood and would erupt. After the eruption, the patient, “would rave, become angry, talk nonsense and bark like a dog.”
Hepatitis was also quite prevalent in times of war, specifically the Napoleonic Wars, the American Revolutionary War and both World Wars.
World War II had an estimated number of over 10 million soldiers who were infected with hepatitis.
It was believed that they were infected with yellow fever, even though they were vaccinated against it.
The thing you should note is that the vaccines were stabilized with human serum and were most likely contaminated with the hepatitis viruses which caused epidemics.
It was suspected that yellow fever was not the cause of the epidemics, so when another strain of the vaccine was used, there were no cases jaundice observed in the patients.
Nowadays, hepatitis is a more well known disease and it feels strange that back then, not even a century ago, it was thought to be something else.
In these modern times, we know what hepatitis is, what are the symptoms, how it gets spread and how it is treated.
For those of you who don’t know what hepatitis is (most likely young children or preteens), Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver.
In other words, it is when the liver gets swollen and feels very painful.
It can be caused many things: autoimmune hepatitis and hepatitis that is a result of certain medications, alcohol consumption, and some health conditions.
Autoimmune hepatitis is an illness where you body makes antibodies that fight against your liver tissue.
However, the most common cause of hepatitis is through a viral infection.
There are 5 main viral hepatitis classifications: Hepatitis A, B, C, D, E. Each viral hepatitis is cause by a different virus.
The common symptoms of viral hepatitis are flu-like symptoms, abdominal pain, pale stool, dark urine, appetite loss, fatigues and jaundice (yellow skin and eyes).
Hepatitis can be spread in a manner of ways which is why one should be cautious when personal items.
The common routes of transmission are bodily fluid (semen, blood, vaginal secretions, etc.), exposure in food or water, sharing of needles and razors, etc.
In order to get a proper diagnosis , you should visit a doctor who will have you undergo a series of tests for and accurate result.
The doctor will check your medical history and give you a physical exam. Thedoctor will then perform liver function test as well as other blood tests. After that, you will begiven a liver biopsy and an ultrasound.
Each type of viral hepatitis requires a different form of treatment.
If you have seen a doctor and you do not have hepatitis, you should still take the vaccine. Just because you don’t have it now, doesn’t mean you wont have it later.
Hepatitis A is short-term and may not require any treatment. If the symptoms are very discomforting, bed rest is necessary. If diarrhea or vomiting is experienced, a dietary programme may be recommended for nutrition.
Hepatitis B does not have a significant treatment plan. If it is chronic, you will need antiviral medication which is costly as it will need be taken for several months or years.
The treatment also requires constant and regukar meducal evaluations to see if the virus responds to treatment.
Acute and chronic hepatitis C can be treated with antiviral medications.
Usually, people with chronic hepatitis C will use antiviral medications and could need repeated testing to find out the best form of treatment.
Those who develop liver disease or cirrhosis because of hepatitis C will probably need a liver transplant.
The World Health Organisation listed pegylated interferon alpha (which has severe side effects) as a treatment for Hepatitis D.
It is not recommended for people with liver damage, mental health conditions or those with autoimmune diseases.
As of yet, there are no spevific treatment methods for hepatitis E because it is acute(resolves on its oown).
Those with this infection should get plenty of rest, get enough nutrients, avoid alcohol and drink more water.
Pregnant women with this infection need close monitoring and care for their safety and that of their babies.
In the early satge of auotimmune hepatitis, corticosteroids like budesonide is important as they are effective in 80% of those with the condition.
Immune suppressing drugs like Azathioprine, tacrolimus (Prograf), and Neoral could mostlikelly also be apart of treamnet menthods.
Now that I have dived into the brief history of hepatitis, what it is, the types, how it is spread and how it is treated, I shall end this article with tips on to prevent it and a quote.
The two major ways that one can prevent themselves from getting infected is by reducing their exposure and by getting the vaccine.
There is a vaccine that is available foe hepatatits A. It is a series of two doses and most children get between the ages of 12 to 23 months. The vaccine is also available for adults and can also include the vaccine for hepatitis B.
It is also recommended for newborns to receive the hepatitis B vaccine and it is adminsterd three times over their first 6 mobths of infancy.
The hepatitis B vaccine can also prevent hepatitis D but there are no vaccines for hepatitis C or E.
The other method of exposure is by reducing your exposure to the disease.
Hepatitis is transmitted exactly the same way HIV is transmitted. Bodily fluids, fooods and water containing the virus can spread it easily.
Hepatitis A and E can be avoided with the practice of effective hygiene as the virus that causes them is usually present in water.
Avoid uncooked fshellfish, raw fruit and vegtables and unclean water if you are travelling to a place with a high prevalence rate of heparitis.
Hepatitis B, C, and D are transmitted when in contact with infected bodily fluids. B and C can be carried through sexual intercourse.
The risk can be reduced by not touching other people’s bodily fluids (semen, blood, vaginal secretions, etc.), being careful about exposure in food or water through coughing or spitting, avoid sharing needles and razors with those are likely infected.
As I say in my other articles, please be mindful of your health. When we come into this world, we are only granted one life and we can’t squander it.
Health is wealth. If you get sick, be very cautious and see a doctor even if it might not be a big issue or a cause for alarm. If there is something that is affecting your health, go see a licensed doctor.
Aishat M. Abisola is a member of the Society for Health Communication
Wuye District, Abuja