Globally, there are millions of illnesses or diseases in existence coupled with the ones that seem to have no specific cause or cure. Among these diseases, some are often referred to as stubborn regarding their mode of cure, while some are seen to be deadly. No doubt, hepatitis is one of those stubborn or deadly illnesses in existence. Hepatitis is a medical condition which is defined as an inflammation of one of the most vital organs in the human body known as the liver. It is usually characterized by the presence of inflammatory cells in the tissue of the organ. The inflammatory condition can be self-limiting or can heal on its own. But on the contrary, it can progress to fibrosis or cirrhosis.
Hepatitis may occur with limited or no symptoms, but often leads to jaundice, poor appetite, and a feeling of unease. It is referred to as acute when it lasts less than six months, and chronic when it persists longer. Globally, hepatitis viruses are the most common causes of the condition, but hepatitis can as well be caused by other infections, autoimmune diseases, or toxic substances such as alcohol, certain medications, and some industrial organic solvents and plants.
Initial features of acute hepatitis are of non-specific flu-like symptoms, which are invariably common to almost all acute viral infections, and may include fatigue, muscle and joint aches, fever, nausea diarrhoea, vomiting, and headache. More specific symptoms which could be present in acute hepatitis from any cause are profound loss of appetite, aversion to smoking among smokers, excretion of dark urine, and abdominal discomfort. A small proportion of people with acute hepatitis usually progress to acute liver failure, in which the liver would be unable to remove harmful substances from the blood thereby leading to confusion and coma due to hepatic encephalopathy. The acute liver failure may also result in the production of blood proteins which often leads to peripheral edema and bleeding.
More so, a chronic hepatitis, which is commonly identified through blood test, is usually characterized with no symptoms at all. It often leads to the presence of jaundice which indicates advanced liver damage. On physical examination, there may be enlargement of the liver. In the same vein, women with autoimmune hepatitis mostly experience abnormal menstruation, lung scarring, inflammation of the thyroid gland and kidneys.
Apart from the aforementioned two major classes of hepatitis, it is invariably grouped and recognized by medical experts based on its common causes. On this note, the different types of hepatitis in existence that are widely recognized include, Viral hepatitis, Alcoholic hepatitis, Toxic and drug-induced hepatitis, Ischemic hepatitis, Giant cell hepatitis, just to mention but a few.
The most common causes of viral hepatitis are the five unrelated hepatotropic viruses known as hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E viruses. Last Tuesday, 28th July, the world commemorated the 2015 World Hepatitis Day. The event, which is observed annually on July 28, was inaugurated by World Health Organization (WHO) under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) to raise global awareness on hepatitis or a group of infectious diseases known as Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E, and to encourage the prevention, diagnosis, as well as the treatment of the disease.
The first global World Hepatitis Day was marked on May 19, 2008 through the effort of the World Hepatitis Alliance in collaboration with various patient groups. The commemoration received an international endorsement following the adoption of a resolution during the 63rd World Health Assembly held in May 2010. The date of the event was later changed to July 28 of every year by the Assembly, in honour of the birthday of Nobel Laureate Baruch Samuel Blumberg – the man who discovered the hepatitis B virus.
There is an estimate that hepatitis affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide, thereby causing acute or chronic disease and killing close to 1.4 million people every year. Currently, approximately 500 million people worldwide are suffering from either hepatitis B or hepatitis C. If left untreated or unmanaged, hepatitis B or C can lead to advanced liver scarring known as cirrhosis and other complications including liver cancer or liver failure.
While many people worry more about contracting diseases like HIV than hepatitis, the reality is that every year, at least 1.3 million people worldwide die as a result of either hepatitis B or C faster than they would in the case of HIV/AIDS. Needless to say that, hepatitis is indeed a deadly disease. Considering this fact, it is pathetic and devastating to note that many hepatitis carriers are yet to realize that they are living with the disease.
Hepatitis groups, patients as well as advocates worldwide, take part in series of events on every July 28 to mark the World Hepatitis Day. The World Hepatitis Day is one of the eight official global public health campaigns being marked by the WHO.
As Nigeria joins the international community to commemorate the event, there’s need for collective support as regards creation of awareness on this silent killer known as Hepatitis. The World Hepatitis Day provides an opportunity to focus on actions such as: Raising awareness on the different forms of hepatitis, their common causes and how they are transmitted. Strengthening prevention, screening, and control of viral hepatitis and other related diseases. Increasing hepatitis B vaccine coverage cum integration into national immunization programmes.

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Nwaozor writes from Lagos via [email protected]