Sometimes, in our attempt to stay healthy, we tend to focus more on the ‘popular’ diseases while ignoring others – like there’s an MVP list to attend to. As such, one of the most overlooked diseases is hepatitis.
The hepatitis virus is a silent but deadly disease that attacks the liver and causes long-term health conditions like liver cancer, cirrhosis, etc. Although hepatitis A, B and C are the most common types due to their highly contagious nature, there are other types of hepatitis viruses as well (D and E).
According to the World Health Organisation, over 350 million people around the world are infected with Hepatitis. Of that number, over 20 million are Nigerians and less than 5% know they are carrying the virus. Also, just like other highly infectious diseases, anyone at any age can be infected with hepatitis, with the highest number of infected people being between the ages of 20 -29.
Hepatitis can however be prevented – vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B, but not C. Hence, it is important to take precautions to avoid catching it at all. To help increase your chances of staying in the clear, we have compiled a list of hepatitis risk factors below for you to keep in mind.
1. Contaminated objects, food, drinks
Hepatitis A can be spread by consuming food, fruits, vegetables, salads or beverages that have been contaminated with the faeces of an infected person. The infection can also be spread through close contact with a person who has hepatitis – for example, by changing a diaper (who would have thought!). Poor sanitary conditions and bad hygiene also increase the risks. Wash anything you want to eat, even if you’re going to peel it.
2. Unclean hands
It is possible for Hepatitis A to survive outside the body for months. Maintaining good hygiene habits like washing your hands or using hand sanitiser after using the toilet, changing a diaper and before handling food or eating helps prevent the spread of hepatitis A. When using a public restroom, it’s better to use a paper towel to flush, turn off the faucet and open the door on your way out.
3. Sharing personal items
They’re ‘personal’. Get it? If you don’t see anything wrong in using someone else’s toothbrush or other ‘personal’ effects, then you need to rethink. There’s a 2%-5% chance of transmitting hepatitis B and C using items belonging to a carrier. That goes for razors, nail clippers, towels, needles, or anything else that might harbour traces of infected blood. Even routine activities like visits to the salon or barbershop may pose a small risk of exposure so use equipment belonging to you alone.
4. Sexual contact
Ah, the good old…*cough*. Sexual intercourse with someone who has hepatitis B is a major cause of new infections. The hepatitis B virus can be found in an infected person’s blood, vaginal fluid, or semen. Other than abstaining from sex, being vaccinated is the surest way to avoid an infection. Latex condoms and dental dams may however help reduce your risk, too.
5. Contaminated blood
Hepatitis B and C can be spread through infected blood and body fluids. A baby can also be infected by the mother during birth or through contact with an open wound. It can also be spread by contaminated dental instruments, though sterilization practices make this unlikely. Donor blood is also screened, so the risk of hepatitis from a transfusion is small.
Remember, hepatitis has caused more deaths than HIV. Make the choice to stay healthy today.
Read more: 5 Hepatitis Myths (and the actual truth )