Every year, about 1.3 million people die as a result of viral hepatitis, with 300 million individuals living with the disease and ignorant of their infection status. WHO started the “Eliminate Hepatitis by 2030” campaign in 2016. Because liver damage in chronic viral hepatitis proceeds without symptoms until it reaches the fatal disease stage, screening and early diagnosis are the only strategies to combat this silent killer. Hepatitis A and B viruses, on the other hand, are vaccine-preventable.
Many individuals incorrectly believe that hepatitis only refers to viral hepatitis and that all types of hepatitis are infectious. The term hepatitis refers to any type of liver inflammation – the irritation or swelling of liver cells caused by any cause. Hepatitis can be acute (inflammation of the liver that induces illness — jaundice, fever, vomiting) or chronic (inflammation of the liver that lasts more than six months but is largely asymptomatic) and can be caused by a variety of factors.
The time between viral entrance into the body and the start of hepatitis is referred to as the “incubation phase." It differs from one virus to the next. The incubation time for Hepatitis A and E viruses is around two to six weeks, whereas Hepatitis B and C viruses are approximately two to six months.
Acute viral hepatitis symptoms include flu-like symptoms, tiredness, dark urine, fever, vomiting, and jaundice (yellow discolouration of the skin and the eyes). Infection with these viruses, on the other hand, may occur with little symptoms or even go unrecognised.
Acute viral hepatitis can occasionally progress to a severe form known as “fulminant liver failure” (drastic decline of liver function in a short span of hours to days resulting in death). Acute fulminant hepatitis should be treated in facilities that can do liver transplants because fulminant hepatitis has an 80% mortality rate without liver transplantation.
In contrary to waterborne viruses, viruses transferred through blood and bodily fluids (Hepatitis B and C) can have immediate symptoms, but they are more likely to linger quietly in the body for a decade or two and produce chronic hepatitis.
Chronic hepatitis translates as “long-term hepatitis." Because the immune system is unable to eradicate B and C viruses, they cause unrelenting long-drawn silent inflammation (Chronic Hepatitis) and scarring (fibrosis) in the liver that can last for years. Cirrhosis and liver cancer are the results of these procedures. When silent damage occurs in chronic hepatitis, the patient is asymptomatic.
Screening and early detection are critical to eradicating these viruses before irrevocable damage occurs. Millions will keep suffering and lives will be wasted unless undiagnosed individuals in the silent phase are identified and linked to care.
In 2016, 194 governments worldwide adopted WHO’s global strategy, which intends to eradicate viral hepatitis by 2030. Only a few countries have made significant attempts to meet this deadline. World Hepatitis Day, celebrated on July 28, focuses on raising awareness and the search for missing millions through screening programmes.