World Hepatitis Day is being marked on July 28 again this year. It was established by the World Health Organization to raise awareness and promote understanding of viral hepatitis, the seventh leading cause of death worldwide.
There are vaccines for hepatitis A and B, but no vaccine exists for hepatitis C.
In April 2016, the 69th World Health Assembly adopted a Global Viral Hepatitis Strategy that aims to eliminate hepatitis B and hepatitis C as public health threats by 2030. The strategy includes prevention and treatment targets that aim to save millions of lives.
“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. Heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications, and certain medical conditions can cause hepatitis. However, hepatitis is most often caused by a virus.
What Is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is an infection that attacks the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV), and is perhaps the major infectious occupational disease. For health care workers, the risk of getting hepatitis B from a needle puncture injury is greater than that of getting AIDS in this way.
Infection with HBV may be acute or chronic.
In acute hepatitis B, about one-third of patients have no symptoms and often don’t know they are infected. About one-third suffer a mild flu-like illness. The remaining third will have a much more severe case, including jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes and skin), fatigue, nausea and abdominal pain.
These patients may require hospitalization and will often lose a great deal of time from work. About one to two per cent of reported cases develop fulminant (i.e., sudden, fast-moving and severe) hepatitis, which is fatal in about 85 per cent of cases.
About six to 10 per cent of newly-infected adults develop a chronic, or long-lasting, HBV infection. These people are unable to clear the virus from their liver cells and become chronic HBV carriers, with the virus staying in their blood for months, years or even a lifetime.
Although most chronic HBV carriers become healthy again after an acute infection, they still carry the virus in their blood and can transmit the virus to others. Many chronic HBV carriers go on to suffer liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
How Is HBV (Hepatitis B Virus) Transmitted?
The virus is found in the blood and certain body fluids of people with hepatitis B. These body fluids may include semen, vaginal secretions, saliva and breast milk. The virus can be passed on to another person through contact with contaminated blood and other body fluids. For example, HBV may be spread through sexual contact, the sharing of infected needles and from an infected mother to her baby.
Examples of workplace exposure are:
– puncture wounds or cuts caused by needles, scalpels or lancets contaminated with blood;
– contaminated blood splashing into an open wound in the skin or even onto a mild rash (i.e., dermatitis);
– contaminated blood splashing into the mouth or the eye (however, the risk in these cases is much less than with puncture wounds); and
– biting, which can happen in an “acting out” situation, such as with children or aggressive patients or when, for example, a patient bites a dentist.
HBV may be transmitted to persons within a household or family-like setting. It is not completely understood why the virus from the saliva or blood of infected persons infects fellow family members. It may be because of the frequent physical contact with the small cuts or skin rashes that family members develop. In any case, transmission by close contact in household or family-like settings is a concern for employees who work in such environments. For example, studies have shown that…
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