World Hepatitis Day (WHD) is recognized annually on July 28th, the birthday of Dr. Baruch Blumberg, the physician who discovered the hepatitis B virus in 1967. Two years later, Dr. Blumberg developed a vaccine for the virus. World Hepatitis Day raises awareness about viral hepatitis, which impacts more than 354 million people worldwide.
What is Viral Hepatitis?
Viral hepatitis refers to a group of infectious diseases known as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatitis D, and hepatitis E that affect millions of people worldwide and result in both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) liver disease.
All types of hepatitis are distinct and can spread in different ways. They each affect different populations and result in different health outcomes.
Hepatitis A – The main way this virus is contracted is by eating or drinking something that has the hepatitis A virus in it. Hepatitis A can be prevented with a vaccine and usually doesn’t cause any complications. Your liver heals in two months.
Hepatitis B – Like hepatitis A, a vaccine can prevent type B. It is transmitted via blood, semen, and other fluids. Most people recover within six months.
Hepatitis C – Hepatitis C is spread through contact with blood from an infected person. There is no vaccine, and many who are infected are asymptomatic. Chronic hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Hepatitis D – Also known as “delta hepatitis,” hepatitis D only occurs in people who are already infected with hepatitis B. It is rare in the United States.
Hepatitis E – This virus is mainly transmitted through drinking water contaminated with fecal matter. In some cases, people have contracted the virus by eating raw or undercooked meat, such as pork, venison, wild boar meat, or shellfish. Hepatitis E usually resolves on its own within four to six weeks.
Hepatitis C – A Hidden Risk for Seniors
People born between 1945 and 1965, also known as baby boomers, are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than any other age group. According to the CDC, over 75 percent of adults infected with the virus were born during that period.
This is believed to be because there was minimal testing in the 70s and 80s when the spread of the disease was at its highest. People who partook in risky behavior knew the risk and possibly got tested and caught the infection early. However, during that period, blood transfusions and organ donations have the same testing requirements that are in place today. Therefore, many older adults who were infected years ago are unaware.
Hepatitis C can remain dormant in a person’s body for decades before it begins to cause symptoms and liver damage. The American Liver Foundation reported that 75 to 85 percent of people infected with hepatitis C develop the long-term, chronic version of the virus. This is why it’s important that older adults born between 1945 and 1965 get tested for hepatitis C.
While medications will help reduce the damage of hepatitis C in seniors, people infected will need to make lifestyle changes to keep their liver healthy and prevent further damage.
If you’re at risk for hepatitis C, ask your provider for a blood test. Care options for hepatitis C in seniors have significantly advanced over the years and can help those affected by the virus go into remission and live a long and healthy life.