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World Hepatitis Day - 28th July

by Michael Evans 28 Jul 2012
World Hepatitis Day - 28th July

World Hepatitis Day 2012 - Inflammation of the liver; Credit: © Shutterstock

World Hepatitis Day was first launched in 2008 by the World Hepatitis Alliance. Since then it has received support from governments around the world as well as high profile Non-governmental Organisations such as Medicins Sans Frontieres. In May 2010 the World Health Assembly formally recognised 28thJuly as World Hepatitis Day.

But what is hepatitis?

The Greek word hepat means 'liver' and the Latin word itis means 'inflammation' - thus we get hepatitis or inflammation of the liver.

The liver is the largest gland in the human body, as well as being its largest internal organ. It weighs about 3 lb or 1.36 kg and is made up of thousands of lobules, which each consist of many hepatic cells.

The liver is a vital organ and has a wide range of functions. These include:

  • the filtering of harmful substances such as alcohol from the blood;

  • acting as a store-place for vitamins A, D, K and B12, as well as storing minerals;

  • through a process of protein synthesis it makes the building blocks of proteins;

  • it produces biochemicals such us bile that are needed for digestion;

  • it maintains proper levels of glucose in the blood;

  • it produces 80% of the body's vital cholesterol;

  • it stores glycogen;

  • it decomposes red blood cells;

  • it produces hormones;

  • it produces urea, the main substance of urine.

    Hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E can cause acute and chronic infection and inflammation of the liver, leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Most damage to the liver is caused by three hepatitis viruses, types A, B and C. Other causes of damage include excessive alcohol consumption.

    According to the World Health Organisation, around 240 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis B and around 150 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis C. Other authorities put these figures rather higher, with one estimating that around 350 million suffer from hepatitis B, while further 300 million are carriers of hepatitis C.

    Whatever the true figure, around 500 million people worldwide are suffering from one form of hepatitis or another and it is said that around a million of them die each year.

    The British Association for the Study of the Liver (BASL) says that one in 12 of the world's population suffer from either chronic hepatitis B or C. This is far more than HIV or any cancer. BASL finds it inexplicable that awareness of hepatitis is so low that the majority of those infected are completely unaware of the fact.

    Hepatitis B is often sexually transmitted. It is spread by contact with infected blood, semen or other bodily fluid. Unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person; having skin perforated with unsterilised needles, such as when getting a tattoo; or even sharing a toothbrush or razor with an infected person; are all common causes of spreading. An infected mother can also pass the infection to her baby through her milk.

    With hepatitis B the liver will swell and serious damage can result leading to cancer. For some patients hepatitis B can be a lifelong illness.

    Hepatitis C is usually spread through direct contact with the blood of an infected person. Again, the liver can swell and become damaged, but liver cancer is only a cancer risk if the patient has cirrhosis and only 20% of patients develop this.

    World Hepatitis Day sets out to raise awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis and the diseases that it can cause. It focuses on:

  • strengthening prevention, screening and control of viral hepatitis and its related diseases;

  • increasing the coverage of hepatitis B vaccination into national immunisation programmes;

  • co-ordinating a global response to hepatitis.

    At the same time the World Health Organisation sets a number of goals:

  • to reduce the transmission of agents that cause viral hepatitis;

  • to reduce morbidity and mortality due to viral hepatitis through improving the care of patients;

  • to reduce the socio-economic impact of viral hepatitis at individual, community and population levels.

    The ultimate goal of organisations such as the World Hepatitis Alliance is that with the involvement of world governments, through better awareness, prevention, care, support and access to treatment, hepatitis can be eradicated from the planet.

    To highlight the fact that the world problem of hepatitis is generally being ignored, as part of the 2012 celebrations for World Hepatitis Day, an attempt is to be made to break the world record for the number of people performing the traditional proverb of the three wise monkeys; see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

    This attempt will be carried out at multiple venues and will be according to the strict rules of Guinness World Records™. Each location must have a minimum of 12 people all carrying out the sequence of actions, covering their eyes, covering their mouth and covering their ears at the same time. This must take place within a twelve-hour period either side of 12-noon, London time on 28th July.

    Although hepatitis causes misery to millions of people worldwide and although it is largely treatable and preventable, numbers show little signs of reducing. Hopefully the publicity surrounding the Guinness World Records™ attempt will go some way to draw worldwide attention to this.

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