Back to news

Prevent hepatitis: It’s up to you

How to prevent against hepatitis is the focus of World Hepatitis Day this month.

World Hepatitis Day is held each year on 28 July after being established in 2010 by the World Health Organisation as one of only four official disease-specific world health days.

There are many different types of hepatitis, with hepatitis C the most common in England and around 215,000 people in the UK estimated to have chronic hepatitis C.

Hepatitis can also be caused drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over many years and it is estimated that as many as one in four moderate to heavy drinkers has some degree of alcoholic hepatitis.

Dr Marc Rowland, a local GP and chair of NHS Lewisham Clinical Commissioning Group, said there were often no noticeable symptoms of hepatitis C while many people with hepatitis caused by alcohol could be unaware that their drinking is harming their liver.

“Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver and although some types will pass without causing permanent damage others will continue for many years and cause scarring of the liver,” he said.

“In the most serious cases, it may lead to liver failure or liver cancer, which can both be fatal. These types of long-lasting hepatitis are known as chronic hepatitis.”

Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus. This can be found in the blood and, to a much lesser extent, the saliva and semen or vaginal fluid of an infected person.

It is particularly concentrated in the blood, so it is usually transmitted through blood-to-blood contact.In England, it is most commonly spread through sharing needles to inject drugs, which account for nine out of 10 cases. There is no vaccination for hepatitis C.

Other types of hepatitis which are less common in England include hepatitis A and B for which vaccinations are available for those traveling abroad to areas where is widespread.

The four most effective ways to reduce your risk of developing hepatitis are:

• never share drug equipment with other drug users – this does not just apply to needles, but also syringes, spoons and filters, as well as bank notes or straws used to snort cocaine
• use a condom during sex, including anal and oral sex
• moderate your consumption of alcohol
• make sure you get travel vaccinations for hepatitis A and B if you are travelling to parts of the world where these infections are widespread

When a person with hepatitis caused by infection does have symptoms, these will be similar to the flu and include:

• muscle and joint pain
• a high temperature (fever) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above
• feeling sick
• being sick
• headache
• occasionally, yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)

Symptoms of chronic hepatitis can include:

• feeling unusually tired all the time
• depression
• jaundice
• a general sense of feeling unwell

To find out more about the different types of hepatitis, including hepatitis C and alcoholic hepatitis, visit www.nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis/pages/introduction.aspx

To find out more about World Hepatitis Day visit www.worldhepatitisday.org