World Hepatitis Day 2021: Separate the Myths from the Facts

Hepatitis is as serious a matter as any other viral infection. The world may be focused on the coronavirus these days; but it would be singularly unwise to ignore the dangers accruing from hepatitis. With an estimated 40 million Indians infected by chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) alone; clearly the risks of getting infected with the hepatitis virus should not be downplayed in any way. It accounts for approximately 11% of the estimated global burden. When you stop to consider that there are five major strains of hepatitis ― A, B, C, D, and E ― you are clearly looking at a grave health issue.

Myth: Each Form of Hepatitis Is the Same

Hepatitis literally means inflammation of the liver. However, every different kind of hepatitis is caused by its own unique virus. Even the routes of infection differ as some are spread through infected blood, or bodily fluids, and some by consuming contaminated food, or eating shellfish which has been cultured in sewer contaminated water. Both hepatitis A and E follow the oral-fecal infection route. The only way anyone can get hepatitis D is if they have previously been infected with hepatitis B earlier. Of course, substance abuse like consuming too much alcohol, drugs, certain medication, and autoimmune disease can also cause hepatitis.

Myth Versus Fact: How Hepatitis Spreads

Unlike coronavirus, neither hepatitis B, nor hepatitis C is spread through coughing or sneezing. Though the virus might exist in saliva, infection is almost never caused by simple kissing. It is a myth that if an infected person handles your food, by way of cooking or serving, you might get infected too. That can only happen if infected blood gets mixed in the food, such blood seeping out of a wound into a beverage, or the gravy of a dish. Nor is there any likelihood of your getting infected with a hepatitis A, B, or C virus, if your share a plate when eating, or serve yourself food from the same utensil that an infected person is serving themselves from. There is no clinical evidence that in the absence of blood-to-blood contact, any kind of hepatitis can be transmitted from teachers, nurses, food handlers, or other service providers.

Absence of Jaundice Does Not Eliminate the Possibility of Hepatitis

The myth floating around says that if there is no jaundice, you are not suffering from hepatitis. In some patients, hepatitis does not show up as jaundice. Patients who are still in the acute, rather than the chronic stage, might not display any symptom, or might simply exhibit symptoms like nausea, fever, headaches, and lethargy.

Myth: Hepatitis Is Hereditary; So, There Is Nothing to be Done About It

Hepatitis is caused by infection, though it is unlikely to be passed from the expectant mother to the fetus. Hepatitis B might be passed from the mother to the child during delivery, but not during breast feeding, unless the mother’s nipple is bleeding, and there is a cut or abrasion in the baby’s lip for infected blood to pass from mother to child. So, do not hide behind genes to indulge in risky behavior like sharing needles for injecting drugs, practice unsafe sex, or get tattoos done in shady places. Needles of syringes might carry the virus long after use, if they are not sterilized thoroughly. They can be a source of infection for nurses and others in a healthcare setting.

Prevent Hepatitis: There Is No Cure

You can prevent hepatitis by maintaining excellent hygiene at all times ― especially personal hygiene like not sharing razors and toothbrushes. You should wash hands before cooking, dressing fruits and vegetables; wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them raw, or dressing them for diverse dishes; clean utensils thoroughly, and rinse them with potable water before use. It is equally important to ensure that the water used for drinking, cooking, and cleaning utensils, even for washing one’s hands and face, or when brushing one’s teeth, comes from a reliable source. Remember, only hepatitis C is curable through medicinal intervention. Avoid all kinds of substance abuse.

Hepatitis Virus Does Not Need to Be Inside a Human Body to Survive

Another myth which is severely misleading is the notion that the hepatitis virus can only survive within a human host. The truth is that the hepatitis B virus can remain capable of infecting someone else even in dried blood for as long as a week. On the other hand, the hepatitis C virus might survive on normal, environmental surfaces for as long as 16 hours. For survival outside the body, the hepatitis A virus beats all odds to survive for up to six weeks at room temperature.

Myth: You Can Just Vaccinate, and Forget About Hepatitis Infection

No, only hepatitis A and hepatitis B have vaccines. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, D, or E. Therefore, you must take the necessary precautions to prevent getting infected. Ironically, both hepatitis A and B are vaccine preventable diseases, but there is still no known cure for either.

Content Reviewed by – Asian Hospital Medical Editors