Sunday, July 28, 2019, is World Hepatitis Day, a day to bring awareness to the different causes of hepatitis and the burden they place on those afflicted. According to the World Health Organization, over 250 million people around the world have chronic hepatitis B and over 70 million have chronic hepatitis C. Each year, thousands of people die from hepatitis A infection as well. Another viral hepatitis, hepatitis E, also causes millions of acute infections each year.
There are currently vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. In the United States, hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for certain groups, like people traveling to places around the world where the disease is highly prevalent, or people from those countries immigrating into the United States. Since 1995, the vaccine was phased in for children living in areas of high risk of infection and has since become a universal recommendation for all children.
Hepatitis B vaccination in the United States is recommended to be given in three doses, starting at birth, to all children. Adults who have not been vaccinated are also encouraged to be vaccinated especially if they fall within certain high-risk groups. Almost every healthcare institution mandates the hepatitis B vaccine for all of their employees because of the increased risk of injuries with contaminated sharps.
It used to be that children were at highest risk of contracting hepatitis A in the United States. However, the vaccine changed that to the point that most outbreaks are associated with contaminated food or in institutional settings like jails or shelters for homeless and displaced people. Between 2016 and 2017, an outbreak of hepatitis A in San Diego, California, sickened hundreds and resulted in 20 reported deaths. Most of those affected in San Diego were homeless. About 200,000 vaccines were given out for free by the local government, extinguishing the outbreak.
Today, a simple search of the news shows that hepatitis A outbreaks are occurring frequently in the United States:
As health organizations and authorities focus on hepatitis this week, they will probably heavily promote the role that vaccines have played in reducing the burden of hepatitis A and hepatitis B. There is much work to be done in reducing the burden of these diseases to its bare minimum, hence the need for awareness. There are no vaccines for hepatitis C or hepatitis E, yet. So there are many precautions that need to be taken and, for hepatitis C, medication that can be given to eliminate the virus and prevent chronic hepatitis C.