This year, World Hepatitis Day will be observed on Thursday, July 28. World Hepatitis Day is recognized annually to raise awareness of viral hepatitis, a group of infectious diseases known as hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. These viruses cause inflammation and damage of the liver, an organ that helps the body digest food, store energy, and eliminate bacteria and harmful toxins. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 3.3 million people in the United States are living with chronic viral hepatitis—an estimated 862,000 with hepatitis B and 2.4 million with hepatitis C. Approximately 200,000 Americans are infected with hepatitis D every year.
Hepatitis A and E viruses typically cause only acute, or short-term infections. In an acute infection, the virus will go away after your body is able to fight off the infection. Hepatitis B, C, and D viruses can cause chronic, or long-lasting, infections leading to cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer.
Hepatitis can spread through contaminated food or drinking water. You can also get hepatitis from sexual contact, drinking significant amounts of alcohol, sharing dirty needles, being in contact with a person’s body fluids or infected blood, or from mother to child during childbirth.
Symptoms of hepatitis can include:
- Dark urine
- Stomach pain
- Yellow skin or eyes, called jaundice
- Pale or clay-colored stool
- Low-grade fever
- Loss of appetite
- Aching joints
There are many ways to reduce your chances of getting hepatitis and developing any complications.
- Get vaccinated. Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent hepatitis A and B.
- Wash your hands. Use soap and water to wash your hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and preparing or eating food.
- If you have sex, use condoms. Condoms lower your risk of getting or passing sexually transmitted infections, including viral hepatitis.
- Do not share needles or syringes. You should not share needles or syringes for any reason.
- Avoid sharing personal items. For example, avoid sharing toothbrushes, razors, manicure instruments, or glucose monitors.
- Take precautions when getting tattoos or body piercings. This especially applies if you are getting tattoos or body piercings from an unlicensed individual or facility.
- Take precaution when traveling. Drink bottled water and ensure food is fully cooked and appropriately stored.
- Limit alcohol intake. Ongoing alcohol use and heavy binge drinking can lead to additional health conditions, such as alcohol-induced hepatitis, cirrhosis, or even liver failure.
- Wear protective gloves or barriers. If you are in contact with another person’s blood or bodily fluids, follow recommended standard precautions and infection-control principles.
For more information and resources on viral hepatitis, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.