World Hepatitis Day calls attention to serious health threat for employees

On July 28, the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners mark the World Hepatitis Day to increase awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis and the diseases that it causes.

Viral hepatitis affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide and kills close to 1.4 million people per year, according to the WHO.

Despite the serious nature of this disease, it continues to be relatively unacknowledged as a health threat in many parts of the world. By comparison, other serious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis generate massive global attention.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. There are five major types of viral hepatitis – A, B, C, D, and E. Of these, the most common are A, B and C.

The sixth annual World Hepatitis Day provides an international focus for patient groups and people living with hepatitis B and C. According to the World Hepatitis Alliance, World Hepatitis Day is intended to encourage people to think about viral hepatitis on a global level, whether they may be at risk and how to avoid becoming infected.

More than 500 million people worldwide have chronic hepatitis B or C. Both of these viruses can be present without any symptoms. Untreated hepatitis can lead to serious, life-threatening issues such as cirrhosis, bleeding, ascites, liver cancer, liver failure and death. Signs of infection include:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Jaundice (hepatitis B)
  • Aching muscles and joints
  • Stomach ache
  • Loss of appetite (hepatitis C)
  • Diarrhea/dark urine/bright stools

There is a vaccine for hepatitis B but not for hepatitis C. Hepatitis B typically spreads through contact with blood, semen or other body fluids from an infected person to an unprotected non-infected person. Every year, 500,000 – 700,000 people die from hepatitis B according to the World Hepatitis Alliance.

Hepatitis C primarily spreads through blood-to-blood contact. Unlike hepatitis B, hepatitis C frequently stays in the body longer than six months, becoming chronic. Worldwide, there are approximately 170 million people with chronic hepatitis C according to the World Hepatitis Alliance. More chronic cases of hepatitis mean more life-threatening issues. The prevalence of this disease grows every year according to the WHO.

Some steps to keep in mind when dealing with potential hepatitis infection:

  • Follow proper needlestick safety
  • Receive a vaccine for hepatitis B (no vaccine for hepatitis C)
  • Avoid sharing personal items, such as razors or toothbrushes
  • Be careful when getting tattoos or piercings

Regarding sexual contact:

  • Be aware of an individual who has chronic hepatitis B or C
  • Practice safe sex
  • Avoid sexual contact with an individual who has chronic hepatitis B
  • For hepatitis C, when a person is stable the risk of contracting it is low

Hepatitis B and C are easily transmitted. Prevention depends on universal precautions, proper food handling techniques and better recognition of signs and symptoms.

UL’s Occupational Health Manager (OHM) gives employee health clinicians the capacity to quickly act on health and safety matters. OHM’s Health Portal engages employees with single-point access to clinic-related activity.