The less famous virus(es)

There is only one virus dominating the news this year, rightly so as it devastates the world.

However there are multiple other viruses that we do have the means to take control of. The group of viruses that cause liver inflammation (hepatitis) are particularly harmful.

Last week the World Health Organisation (WHO) marked World Hepatitis Day on the 28th July.

The WHO have less than ten days in the calendar they use for raising awareness so they consider Hepatitis an important global condition. This year’s theme is a “Hepatitis Free Future”. The WHO report that there are 290 million people living with viral hepatitis and don’t know it.

There is a dual approach to achieving the goal of elimination by 2030. Increasing immunisation rates will prevent people from ever getting infected and testing and treatment will reduce the number of infected individuals who can spread it to others.

There are five Hepatitis viruses named A, B, C, D and E. B and C are the most common and cause the most deaths. There are effective immunisations against Hepatitis B and in the last few years highly effective treatments for Hepatitis C have been developed. Both Hepatitis B and C can be transmitted via sexual partners and blood contaminated objects such as needles or razors. However Hepatitis B is more commonly transmitted from mother to baby which makes child immunisation an important method of prevention.

In Australia an immunisation for Hepatitis B is part of the childhood schedule and the first dose is given within 24 hours of birth (as recommended by WHO) to reduce the risk of mother to baby transmission. This is the case for many other countries as well but only 42% of children globally have access to a birth dose.

Putting into context how harmful Hepatitis B and C are they cause over a million deaths each year, while COVID-19 at the start of August 2020 was just under 700,000 deaths.

Next time you see your doctor ask whether you would benefit from Hepatitis tests and immunisations for yourself and your family.

Dr Amit Patel