290 million people unaware they have the potentially deadly hepatitis virus 

28 July 2021

Globally, 90% of people living with hepatitis B and 80% living with hepatitis C are unaware they have the disease (equating to about 290 million people), resulting in the real possibility of developing fatal liver disease or liver cancer and in some cases, unknowingly transmitting the infection to others.

Hepatitis B and C cause 1.1 million to 1.4 million deaths worldwide every year – more than HIV/AIDS and malaria.

Today, July 28, is World Hepatitis Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about the virus as well as preventative measures.

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are viruses that cause damage to your liver. They can be chronic, which means you could have them your whole life.

The 2021 theme for World Hepatitis Day is ‘Hepatitis Can’t Wait’, which recognises that even in the current COVID-19 crisis, we can’t wait to act on hepatitis B and hepatitis C. COVID-19 has significantly interrupted hepatitis screening and hepatitis B monitoring in Australia, but with concerted and unified effort people can turn that around.

In South Australia specialised Viral Hepatitis Nurses are helping to curb and treat the illness, as clinical practice consultants who work with patients in the community, general practice or in hospital settings (visit https://hepatitissa.asn.au/blog/talk-to-a-nurse).

Eliminating hepatitis B and hepatitis C as public health threats by 2030 would prevent approximately 36 million infections and save 10 million lives.

Hep B is the most common liver virus in the world, with more than 220,000 Australians living with the condition in 2020. More than a quarter of people living with chronic Hep B in Australia have not been diagnosed and are unaware of their condition. People can get treatment to manage living with Hep B, but not cure it. However, there is a vaccine to protect you from the virus.

You can contract Hep B if infected blood or body fluids infiltrate your blood, or if you have unprotected sex. Hepatitis B is not transmissible through saliva. Many people with Hep B exhibit no symptoms but they can include tiredness, irritability, pain in the liver, aches and pains in the joints, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting.

Around 120,000 were living with chronic hepatitis C at the end of 2020. It is estimated one in five Australians living with Hep C are unaware of their condition. Hep C is also blood borne; be it, like Hep B, through sharing a toothbrush, a razor, nail files, syringes or tattooing or body piercing with unsterilised equipment.

Like Hep B, people with Hep C often do not experience symptoms, but these can include fatigue, aches and pains, anxiety, poor appetite, skin rashes and itchy skin.
There is no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C, but there is an effective cure. The medicines known as direct-acting antivirals (or DAAs) are easy to take with as little as one tablet a day, no injections and most people experience few to no side effects.

Most people can get a prescription from their GP. They are low cost for people who have a Medicare Card.

Like hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A is a virus that affects the liver. It is mainly transmitted by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. The disease is often endemic in countries with a lack of safe water and poor sanitation.

Symptoms include jaundice, stomach pains and nausea. Although not common in Australia, people generally make a full recovery.

People can contact the Hepatitis SA Helpline on 1800 437 222 for more information or visit https://hepatitissa.asn.au/hep-b-take-action and https://hepatitissa.asn.au/hep-c-get-cured for information about testing and treatment.