World Hepatitis Day 28th July 2012
"It's closer than you think" is the theme of this year's World Hepatitis Day, which takes place on 28 July 2012. World Hepatitis Day is an annual event that each year provides international focus for patient groups and people living with hepatitis B and C. It is coordinated by the World Hepatitis Alliance, a non-governmental organisation that represents hepatitis B and hepatitis C patient groups from around the world.
The campaign focuses on raising awareness of the different forms of hepatitis: what they are and how they are transmitted; who is at risk; and the various methods of prevention and treatment.
Despite its staggering toll on health, hepatitis remains a group of diseases that are largely unknown, undiagnosed and untreated. Shockingly one in 12 people worldwide is living with either chronic hepatitis B or C. While this is far higher than the prevalence of HIV or any cancer, awareness is inexplicably low and the majority of those infected are unaware.
This year WHO/Europe specifically focuses on hepatitis C in injecting drug users and high hepatitis C/HIV co-infection, to generate awareness and inform people about associated risks, early detection and prevention methods. As a high proportion of hepatitis C infected people show no symptoms, most do not know that they are infected. The virus therefore remains neglected until the disease has reached a chronic stage. Injecting drug users have an especially high risk of hepatitis C. In Ireland, the vast majority of new cases of hepatitis C acquired their infection through injecting drug use. People can take measures to avoid or lower the risk of contracting hepatitis C, such as following practices for safe sex and safe injection.
To reduce the transmission of hepatitis B, WHO recommends the vaccination of all infants against hepatitis B. Since 2008 Hepatitis B vaccine has been included in the childhood vaccination programme in Ireland. Vaccination is also recommended for certain risk groups. Sexual exposure is the most commonly reported risk factor for new cases of hepatitis B in Ireland.
People at risk of hepatitis B and C should contact their local health practitioners to find out more about testing and treatment methods.