Globally, the impact of hepatitis B and hepatitis C is staggering. The World Health Organization estimates 500 million people to be infected with hepatitis B or C worldwide. These viruses kill 1.5 million people a year. Interestingly, 1 in every 3 people has been exposed to either or both viruses. Many of those infected with hepatitis are unaware, as the symptoms lie dormant. In Australia, approximately 225,000 people are living with chronic hepatitis B and approximately 230,500 Australians are living with chronic hepatitis C.
The liver is our largest internal organ – and in some ways, the most complex. Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver – from any cause. Hepatitis C is transmitted via blood-to-blood contact and unlike other common hepatitis viruses A and B, there is no vaccine available to protect against hepatitis C. Treatments now available have resulted in improved outcomes for people infected.
There are many very good reasons why we should look after our liver but generally we do not treat it well. Instead, we constantly put it under stress, with alcohol being one of the worst offenders. Other medicines (including complementary and alternative medicines) and other substances also have the potential to cause liver problems.
Viral hepatitis and its global burden is recognised on July 28 each year with World Hepatitis Day. On this day individuals, community groups, clinicians and other supporters run events to raise awareness. This day is officially endorsed by the World Health Organization. The theme for this year is ‘Eliminate Hepatitis’, and aims to accelerate progress towards the goal set by the global movement NOhep to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030.
In 2008, the first World Hepatitis Day was launched by the World Hepatitis Alliance, in response to concerns that chronic viral hepatitis did not have the level of awareness, nor the political priority, seen with other communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
World Hepatitis Day aims to raise awareness of the burden of viral hepatitis, influence change, and unite people of all backgrounds and professions to help raise the profile of viral hepatitis. In Australia, World Hepatitis Day is coordinated by Hepatitis Australia, and local campaigns are supported by Hepatitis Australia member and partner organisations (for further information, visit www.hepatitisaustralia.com/).
Love Your Liver is an initiative of Hepatitis Australia. It is also designed to raise awareness of liver health and viral hepatitis. Visit http://loveyourliver.com.au/ for more information about your liver, such as the important role it plays in health, strategies to look after your liver and tasty recipes.
To look after your liver, a healthy diet is a high priority. Regular light to moderate exercise should be part of your everyday routine. Similarly limit your alcohol intake and if you smoke, talk to your pharmacist for assistance with quitting. These actions will assist in optimising liver health and help you to ‘love your liver’.
Subsidised antiviral therapy is available under certain criteria for people with confirmed hepatitis C infection. However these medicines are potent, with possible interactions and side effects. Talk to your pharmacist about antiviral therapy.
Hepatitis C may not cause any symptoms when infection first occurs. When the infection lasts for more than 6 months it is referred to as chronic hepatitis C. Symptoms of chronic hepatitis C can include: tiredness, nausea and vomiting, fever, and joint pain or swelling. If you have these symptoms act upon them immediately and see your doctor.
As we approach World Hepatitis Day this year, consider what changes you can make to improve the health of your liver. Your local pharmacy is your health destination. You can get more information about looking after your liver from your pharmacists at Berwick Pharmacy.