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Happy World Hepatitis Day?

July 22, 2020

There are more than 100 health awareness holidays―some are recognized on a day, some span over a week and some take a whole month. Health holidays don’t only exist to raise awareness about the hundreds of illnesses and health issues people live with every day, but also to celebrate the doctors and nurses working tirelessly to find a cure and improve our health. 

Did you ever wonder why a particular date or month has been selected? For example, we’re coming up on July 28, World Hepatitis Day. That date happens to be the birthday of Dr. Baruch Blumberg (1925–2011), who discovered the hepatitis B virus in 1967 and two years later developed the first hepatitis B vaccine. These achievements culminated in Dr. Blumberg winning the Nobel Prize.

Do you know someone who has been affected by hepatitis? We spoke with David Kim, M.D., a gastroenterologist/hepatologist who practices at NCH, to get a better understanding of this disease. Hepatitis literally means “liver inflammation.”

There are three different types of viral hepatitis. Hepatitis A can be contracted by contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B is usually from sexual contact or passed on from the mother at childbirth. Hepatitis C is usually from exposure to blood products―either from transfusion before 1989, shared needles or non-professional tattoos. An estimated 3.5 million Americans are affected by the common viral hepatitis, known as Hep C.

Hepatitis can be acute, in which case the symptoms can include fevers, malaise, jaundice, enlarged liver and elevated liver enzymes. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver and can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer; hepatitis is one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide killing more than 1.3 million people every year.

Hepatitis can also be chronic, in which people can be completely asymptomatic to having mild non-specific symptoms, such as fatigue.

Abnormal liver enzymes can indicate the presence of hepatitis. However, normal liver enzymes do not necessarily rule it out. Specific blood tests can diagnose the various types of viral hepatitis. The CDC recommends that everyone receives a one-time hepatitis C screen. Vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B, but there is no vaccine for Hep C.

Hepatitis A is a self-limited illness and the person’s own immune system is effective at eradicating the virus. Hepatitis B is treatable, and 95 percent of people with hepatitis C can be cured within two to three months. However a lack of awareness amongst the high numbers of people who do not know they are infected prevents them from seeking treatment. This not only increases the risk of fatal liver disease or liver cancer later in life, but may also lead to people unknowingly transmitting the infection to others.

There is a highly effective treatment for hepatitis B which can suppress hepatitis B viral replication. And more exciting is that the current treatments for Hep C are able to completely clear the virus from the person, in effect, curing the patient of hepatitis C.

Vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B, but there is no vaccine for Hep C.

Dr. Kim recommends, “Get screened for Hep C!” Of the 3.5 million Americans who have hepatitis C, the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data estimates only 50 percent have been detected and only 9 percent have been treated. Approximately 9 in 10 men and women living with viral hepatitis do not know they are infected. This means that an estimated 300 million people globally are unknowingly living with hepatitis, including 42 million children.

Hepatitis C is more prevalent in the Baby Boomer generation (1945-1965) and an estimated one in 30 baby boomers are positive for Hep C. Current hepatitis C regimens are able to achieve a 98 percent cure rate in as short as eight to 12 weeks. With safe, effective therapy available, the WHO has set a global goal to eradicate hepatitis C by the year 2030.

To make an appointment with Dr. Kim, call 847-439-1005.

Dr. Kim is an independent physician in the community with privileges at NCH. He is not an employee or agent of NCH.