Both hepatitis B and C are liver diseases caused by viruses that could either be acute or chronic and can lead to some serious liver damage, including cirrhosis and cancer. Both viral infections are preventable to a degree, depending on the primary way they’re transferred. Because they’re sneaky though, and they can go unnoticed and asymptomatic for years, raising awareness and opening up a discussion about testing and prevention is so important.

29th of May is World Digestive Health Day and the 2018 moto is “Viral Hepatitis, B and C: Lift the global burden” and this is why we at FindMeCure want to focus on prevention, as it is by far the best way to lift the global burden.

As you probably know, there is a hepatitis B vaccine and it follows that it should lower the numbers of newly infected people. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case[1]. On a global scale hepatitis B accounts to 786 000 deaths a year.

So, what are we doing and what can we do better?

For starters, let’s talk about what prevention looks like in the developed world. Since both Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are mainly transferred by bodily fluids (Hepatitis B primarily through sexual activities, while Hepatitis C – through contact with infected blood) avoiding high-risk interactions is key.

This means using a condom whenever you’re not sure about your partner’s status, using sterile needles and being very particular about the tattoo parlors and beauty salons you go to since those can also present a risk.

It sounds simple enough until we consider the stigma associated with the disease. In developed countries, the primary risk groups are men who have sex with men, people who have multiple sexual partners and intravenous drug users. All of these behaviors still carry a certain amount of shame, depending on the geographic region. Some time ago we talked about how some US states fall short in the AIDS prevention efforts because they let stigmatization run their health policies.

But even in very progressive countries, education and a shame-free discussion are needed in order for people to start feeling comfortable around these matters. It is possible to talk about high-risk behaviors in a non-judgmental way without encouraging unprotected sex or drug use.

If you want to be part of the solution, there is plenty you can do even without becoming an activist. You can begin normalizing safe-sex talk, starting with yourself and your partners. You can raise awareness in your community and educate your peers about the importance of prophylactic testing. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can advocate for health policies that make testing easy and accessible in your country or state and even check the regulations around the Hepatitis B vaccine.

Talking about the Hepatitis B vaccine

While it’s true that Hepatitis B is mainly spread through unprotected sex and IV drugs in wealthier industrialized countries, this is not always the case. Vertical transmission, from mother to child during birth, actually accounts for up to 50% of Hepatitis B infections globally.

And even in the countries where the main mode of transmission is unsafe sex and intravenous drug use, the virus can be spread in many other ways as well. A person can be infected through any contact with the contaminated blood of bodily fluids provided there is a break in the skin or a mucous membrane. The virus can even remain infectious for up to a week on the surface of an object.

What this means is that even if you are very prudent in your approach to prevention, the only way to stay safe for sure or prevent your children from being infected is through vaccination. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends the first dose of universal Hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth and hepatitis B vaccine and hepatitis B immune globulin within 12 hours of birth for infants born to HBV-positive mothers.

Promoting this at-birth vaccination worldwide can be the key to “lifting the global burden”, seeing as new cases of HepB decreased by 90% since 1982 when Hepatitis B immunization was introduced.

Turning this practice into a global healthcare policy, however, requires more than financial resources – it requires a cultural shift. Reaching out to vaccination skeptics and educating them about the mechanism of a vaccine and the significant role immunization plays in prevention and eventually – eradicating a disease, is as important as implementing the ACIP recommendation.

We at FindMeCure believe in scientific progress. Just as we like to dispel the myths surrounding clinical trials and medical research, we stick to the facts when it comes to healthcare in general. Our mission is to spread the knowledge and encourage you to make educated decisions about your health, so we take the side of reason in the vaccination debate and maintain that immunization is indeed the best way to lift the global burden.

Article by Nelly Katsarova

 

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hbv/bfaq.htm

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