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Should You Be Screened for Hepatitis?

Ahead of World Hepatitis Day on July 28, the World Health Organization wants you to know that only one in 20 people with viral hepatitis know they have it. And just one in 100 with the disease is being treated. Around the world 400 million people are infected with hepatitis B and C, more than 10 times the number of people living with HIV.

Key Facts

  • Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus: the virus can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis, ranging in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness.
  • The hepatitis C (HCV) virus is a bloodborne virus, and the most common modes of infection are through exposure to small quantities of blood. This may happen through injection drug use, unsafe injection practices, unsafe health care, and the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products.
  • Globally, an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C infection.
  • A significant number of those who are chronically infected will develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.
  • Approximately 399,000 people die each year from hepatitis C, mostly from cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma.
  • Antiviral medicines can cure more than 95 percent of persons with hepatitis C infection, thereby reducing the risk of death from liver cancer and cirrhosis, but access to diagnosis and treatment is low.
  • There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C; however, research in this area is ongoing.

Symptoms

The incubation period for hepatitis C is two weeks to six months. Following initial infection, approximately 80 percent of people do not exhibit any symptoms. Those who are acutely symptomatic may exhibit fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, grey-colored feces, joint pain and jaundice (yellowing of skin and the whites of the eyes).

Getting tested

Early diagnosis can prevent health problems that may result from infection and transmission of the virus. WHO recommends screening for people who may be at increased risk of infection which include:

  • people who inject drugs;
  • people who use intranasal drugs;
  • recipients of infected blood products or invasive procedures in health-care facilities with inadequate infection control practices;
  • children born to mothers infected with HCV;
  • people with sexual partners who are HCV-infected;
  • people with HIV infection;
  • prisoners or previously incarcerated persons; and
  • people who have had tattoos or piercings

Contact your healthcare provider if you have hepatitis symptoms or are in the increased risk group to find out if you should be screened.

Source: World Health Organization who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs164/en/.

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