July 28th was World Hepatitis Day, a global health event established in 2010 and coordinated by The World Hepatitis Alliance in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO).
Viral hepatitis affects 400 million people worldwide, resulting in approximately 1.45 million deaths each year, or 4000 deaths per day. There are five distinct viral strains of hepatitis: A, B, C, D, and E, each of which causes inflammation of the liver. Transmission of the hepatitis virus varies by type:
- Hepatitis A is transmitted through water or food contaminated with the hepatitis A virus (HAV). HAV infection can be prevented by a vaccine. This type of hepatitis is acute, and mainly affects children and adults in areas of the world with poor sanitation and limited access to vaccination.
- Hepatitis B is transmitted through exposure to blood and bodily fluids infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). HBV can also be transmitted from mother to child during birth. HBV infection can become chronic if untreated, and, like HAV, can be prevented by a vaccine.
- Hepatitis D virus (HDV) is a due to a progression of the hepatitis virus in patients already infected with hepatitis B. HDV compounds the health outcomes associated with chronic HBV infection. HDV can be prevented through prevention of hepatitis B infection via vaccination.
- Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is almost exclusively transmitted through exposure to infective blood, generally sustained from unsafe transfusions, contaminated injections, and IV drug use. Sexual transmission is possible, but not common. There is no vaccine for HCV.
- Hepatitis E is transmitted through water or food contaminated by with the hepatitis E virus (HEV). HEV causes acute infection, and is often responsible for hepatitis outbreaks in the developing world. There is a vaccine for hepatitis E, although it is not widely available for use.
If left untreated, hepatitis B, C, and D infections can become chronic and lead to long-term, potentially deadly liver problem, including cirrhosis (or scarring) and cancer. Viral hepatitis can be prevented through proven and effective interventions, including vaccination (for hepatitis A and B), safe injection and transfusion practices, proper hygiene, and increased education for prevention.
In the U.S., Community Health Centers (CHCs) are essential to the prevention of hepatitis A and B within the general public by providing vaccinations to children and adults based on the standard immunization schedules established by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Despite widespread vaccination for hepatitis A and B in children, chronic hepatitis C and hepatitis B in adults remains a major public health challenge, dubbed the “silent epidemic” due to the amount of cases that go undiagnosed and untreated (CDC Surveillance for Viral Hepatitis, 2013).
It is estimated that 3.2 million people in the U.S. have chronic hepatitis C, many of whom do not know they are infected. Major risk factors for HCV infection in the U.S. include: being born between 1945-1965, current or past injection drug users, and recipients of donated blood, blood products, or organs prior to 1992. Locally in Colorado, the Denver-based organization Hep C Connection offers free hepatitis C testing to anyone who falls into any of the risk factor categories listed here. Additionally, Denver Health, including a number of its CHC clinic sites, partners with Hep C Connection and other state-sponsored public health organizations to offer HCV testing, treatment, and referral services to patients in the Denver Metro Area. Moreover, all CHCs are required to provide diagnostic testing services for hepatitis B and C to patients exhibiting risk factors.
On the national level, HCV Current, a SAMHSA-funded national initiative from the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network (ATTC), is currently offering free online trainings for behavioral health and medical providers, as well as downloadable informational pocket cards. Continuing education credits are available, and in-person trainings are also offered. For additional information and a complete listing of available classes and products, please click here.
Join the campaign to raise awareness about viral hepatitis and influence changes in prevention, testing, and treatment practices across the globe. Find out more by visiting the official website for World Hepatitis Day at www.worldhepatitisday.org. In addition to information about worldwide events that happened this July 28th, you can also find out more about the 4000 Voices social media campaign, targeted at preventing hepatitis deaths through awareness and action: http://worldhepatitisday.org/en/4000-voices.
Health professionals interested in assisting patients improve their health and combat diseases have opportunities to join a team at a Colorado CHC. Integrated primary care teams consist of providers, mid-levels, clinical support, and other positions that support quality outcomes for patients. CHCs bring medical, dental and mental health care to people who would otherwise face numerous barriers to care.
Are you interested in a mission driven career that helps make a difference in patients’ lives? Check out the Mission Driven Careers Job Board or the CHAMPS Job Opportunity Bank for more information about rewarding careers with a Colorado CHC. To learn more about Colorado’s CHCs and other great work they are doing, visit CCHN’s website.