In 2010 the World Health Organization made World Hepatitis Day one of only four official disease-specific world health days, to be celebrated each year on the 28th July. This year World Hepatitis Day is promoting NOhep, campaigning to eliminate viral hepatitis. Hepatitis is a global killer, claiming 1.4 million lives per year – more than HIV/AIDs or malaria.
Dawn Bailey from Leeds City Council’s Public Health team is a Health Improvement Principal dealing with Health Protection. She has been actively involved dealing with Hepatitis in Leeds in recent years and explains why she is backing World Hepatitis Day.
Some diseases hit the headlines more than others, whether rightly or wrongly. That means many of us aren’t as aware of the potential impact of infections as others and miss a chance to take simple steps to prevent catching and spreading bugs and illness…
In Leeds we have excellent support available, and cases remain at rates we would expect for a city of the size of Leeds. It is also worth putting infection rates in context: In the last quarter of 2015 in the whole of England and Wales there were a total 105 cases of Hep A; annual rates for Hep B are typically less than one case per 100,000; and there were just 2,942 cases were diagnosed with the Hep C virus in the last quarter of 2015. It is the diagnosis rate that is particularly relevant, of course. Hepatitis in its various forms can go undiagnosed for a long time, with the consequent risk of infection transfer.
It’s often a misunderstood illness, commonly linked to HIV/AIDs or associated with people who take part in risky behaviours. There’s a general lack of awareness, and for those living with the disease, from diagnosis through to gaining employment, being educated or having a relationship, that lack of general understanding adds to the negative impact of the hepatitis.
On a more positive note, viral hepatitis is unique, because unlike many other illnesses, there is highly effective preventative vaccine and treatment available for hepatitis B and with a cure for hepatitis C. Theoretically we could see the elimination of these cancer-causing diseases within our lifetime and the improvements in the support for people with hepatitis are enormous as new treatment has become available.
According to the World Health Organisation, eliminating viral hepatitis worldwide would help increase economic growth, achieve social justice and save 7.1 million lives by 2030. In
In Leeds we are working across the health and care system to keep people aware of hepatitis in its various forms, prevent the spread of infection by giving targeted advice and support to those most at risk and deal with the infection when it appears.
Last year we successfully controlled a small outbreak of Hep A in the city with the active involvement of communities, and the way that people and organisations across the city linked to deal with this was exemplary. In many ways Hep A is different to Hep B and Hep C, so it is dealt with differently. For Hep A, basic hand hygiene is one of the most important steps in limiting outbreaks, as the infection is usually caught by consuming food and drink contaminated with the poo of an infected person and is most common in countries where sanitation is poor. Vaccination for those most at risk also makes a big difference – reducing infection and minimising the impact of an outbreak.
Hep B is caused by the hepatitis B virus, which is spread in the blood of an infected person, and Hep Cis the most common type of viral hepatitis in the UK. It’s usually spread through blood-to-blood contact with an infected person.
In the UK, Hep B is most commonly spread through sharing needles used to inject drugs. Poor healthcare practices and unsafe medical injections are the main way it’s spread outside the UK.
Joining in with World Hepatitis Day is a good way to get more information about the various forms of the infection and knowledge of the best ways to combat them.