World Hepatitis Day has been celebrated worldwide on 28 July since 2004. Ninety-eight years ago on this day, Professor Brauch Blumberg was born, who discovered hepatitis B virus (HBV) and developed hepatitis B vaccine. These achievements culminated in Dr. Blumberg winning the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1976. In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO), in collaboration with the World Hepatitis Alliance, agreed to choose his birthday as the date of World Hepatitis Day to honor the Nobel Prize-winning professor.
What can cause hepatitis?
The WHO estimates that there are around 400 million people worldwide infected with hepatitis B and 170 million people are living with hepatitis C. About 100,000 people in Hungary are infected with either hepatitis B or C.
Hepatitis is an acute or chronic inflammatory disease of the liver, caused mainly by viruses, but other damaging effects such as alcohol can also play a role in its development. The liver is the central organ of our metabolism, a filtering and detoxifying organ, and if it becomes diseased it can remain hidden for a long time, so protecting it is of great importance.
Infectious hepatitis caused by HBV can be spread by blood, blood products, contaminated instruments, shared syringes, razors, tattoo needles, among others. However, the vast majority of infections are sexually transmitted. The virus can also spread from mother to child, which is why all pregnant women in Hungary are screened for hepatitis B.
The most effective protection against HBV is the vaccination. It has been used in Hungary since 1999 as part of a campaign in the 8th grade of primary schools. For individuals at increased risk of infection (e.g. doctors, regular recipients of blood products, family members of HBV carriers), the vaccine is also provided free of charge.
Chronic diseases, usually caused by types B, C and D, are mostly asymptomatic and slowly worsen over decades without treatment. The majority of patients do not even suspect that they are carriers – an estimated 75-95% of people with hepatitis are unaware of their infection – and may infect other people without realizing it.
The WHO has made the eradication of hepatitis B, C and D infections a priority, as an estimated 354 million people worldwide are living with these diseases, which are responsible for more than 95% of hepatitis-related deaths.
Diagnosis of HBV infection
Blood test is often requested to identify the virus.
The blood test detects parts of HBV or antibodies produced by the body against the virus. The parts of the virus detected in blood provide information about the infection, while antibodies provide information about the body’s immunity.