KEY POINTS

  • World Hepatitis Day is observed on July 28 each year
  • Hepatitis affects over 354 million people worldwide
  • It can cause both short-term and long-term illnesses

World Hepatitis Day is an opportune time to raise awareness about viral hepatitis. This year's theme, "Hepatitis Can't Wait," calls for action against the serious disease even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

World Hepatitis Day is observed on July 28 each year, which falls on Dr. Baruch Blumberg's birthday, who discovered the Hepatitis B virus in 1967 and developed the first Hepatitis B vaccine just two years later.

Viral Hepatitis refers to a group of infectious diseases with five main types known as Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. It is an inflammation of the liver that can cause severe liver disease and hepatocellular cancer. It affects over 354 million people worldwide and can cause both short-term and long-term illnesses.

Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C actually kill more people annually compared to tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS, the World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA) said. Hepatitis B and C are said to be "silent epidemics"  that typically affect children and marginalized populations the hardest.

According to the organization, a person dies from a Hepatitis-related illness every 30 seconds, showing the importance of this year's theme to impress upon people a sense of urgency to act on the disease.

On this day, let's look at some important facts about viral hepatitis that people should know. (Courtesy: WHA, Mana Medical Associates, European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and GoHealth Urgent Care)

  1. Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common among the viral Hepatitis strains in the U.S.
  2. Hepatitis B and C are said to be responsible for two in three liver cancer deaths.
  3. Viral Hepatitis causes more than one million deaths each year.
  4. About two in three people with Hepatitis B don’t know that they are living with it, while some 50% of those with Hepatitis C don’t know they’re infected.
  5. Hepatitis A is contracted by consuming contaminated food or water. It typically causes an acute infection.
  6. Hepatitis B is primarily contracted through contact with infected bodily fluids such as semen or blood "even in microscopic amounts" of someone with the Hepatitis B virus. In short, it can be contracted through sharing needles or by sexual contact.
  7. Hepatitis C typically spreads through coming in contact with the blood of someone with the Hepatitis C virus. Today, the most common way to contract Hepatitis C is by sharing needles and other equipment to inject drugs.
  8. Hepatitis B and C may also be contracted by being born to an infected mother.
  9. In the U.S., about 24,000 new cases of Hepatitis A are reported each year. In 2018, there were 22,600 new Hepatitis B infections and 50,300 new hepatitis C infections.
  10. Hepatitis A outbreaks still happen in the U.S.
  11. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplant and liver cancer in the U.S. and Europe.
  12. Viral Hepatitis can be prevented. There are vaccines for Hepatitis A and B. The Hepatitis B vaccine can also protect against Hepatitis D since only the people infected with Hepatitis B get Hepatitis D.
  13. While there are no vaccines for Hepatitis C, this form of the disease can be cured.
  14. Being able to eliminate Hepatitis B and C as public health threats by 2030 can prevent about 35 million infections and save 10 million lives.

Hepatitis An Indian boy stands near a replica of the Hepatitis virus, a part of an awareness event in Mumbai on July 28, 2014. Photo: Getty Images/ Punit Paranjpe