July 28th is World Hepatitis Day. Viral hepatitis infection reaches 400 million people worldwide, which is more than 10 times the number of people infected with HIV. Each year, an estimated 1.4 million people die around the world from hepatitis, according to the World Health Organization. In order to raise awareness of hepatitis, our team of Insurance Specialists wanted to share some quick facts about viruses that cause hepatitis as well as prevention and treatment options.
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is characterized by an inflammation of the liver. Although hepatitis is most commonly caused by viruses, toxic substances (ex. alcohol and illicit drugs) and autoimmune diseases can also lead to the illness. Certain types of hepatitis can lead to liver cirrhosis and cancer while others resolve on their own.
Viruses causing hepatitis can be broken into five types:
- Hepatitis A virus is typically spread when a person ingests contaminated food or water; it can also be transmitted sexually.
- Hepatitis B virus is transmitted by contact with infected blood, semen and other body fluids.
- Hepatitis C virus is most commonly transmitted by exposure to infected blood.
- Hepatitis D virus occurs only in individuals who are infected with hepatitis B.
- Hepatitis E virus is most commonly caused by contaminated food or water.
Hepatitis is most commonly diagnosed by a blood test that is ordered by your physician after a physical exam.
Treatment options vary depending on the type of hepatitis virus your doctor diagnosed.
- There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A virus as the majority of people get well on their own.
- Acute hepatitis B virus typically does not require treatment; however, treatment of chronic hepatitis B can reduce the risk of liver disease. Treatment for hepatitis B can include antiviral medication, Interferon A and/or liver transplant.
- Hepatitis C virus is treated with antiviral medications, which help clear the virus from the body. In recent times, hepatitis C treatments have improved significantly by reducing the length of care, producing better outcomes and decreasing side effects. Unfortunately, these treatments can be costly. Members can find out about available drugs through our specialty Pharmacy, Accredo by visiting express-scripts.com/Pharmacy. For individuals who have experienced severe liver damage, liver transplants may be an option.
- High-dose interferons are used in the treatment of hepatitis D virus.
- Although there is no current treatment for hepatitis E virus, the infection usually goes away on its own.
Currently, there are vaccines available for hepatitis A and B virus—protection against the hepatitis D virus can come from the hepatitis B vaccine as well. While there is a vaccine available for hepatitis E virus protection, it is not widely available. To date, there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C.
Everyone is at risk due to the wide spread nature of the disease and the various ways you can become infected. Start with the basics—stick to safe practices that can help prevent the infection of a hepatitis virus, including: washing your hands after using the bathroom and prior to handling food, using latex condoms, asking your doctor about potential travel risks avoiding unsafe drinking water, and not sharing needles or personal items (toothbrushes, razors, etc.). In life, sometimes the smallest things can have a big impact.