World Hepatitis Day is sponsored by the World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA) on July 28th each year to raise awareness of viral hepatitis. July 28th was the birthday of Dr. Baruch Blumberg (1925-2011) who discovered the hepatitis B virus in 1967 and later developed the first hepatitis B vaccine. It is an officially mandated global public health day by the World Health Organization (WHO).
There are approximately 325 million people living with hepatitis and more than 1.1 million lives are lost each year to hepatitis B and C. Every 30 seconds someone loses their life to a hepatitis-related illness. The mission of this campaign is to bring attention to one of the most deadly and neglected diseases. In addition, with a call to action for decision-makers to prioritize the elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030.
This year’s campaign theme is “I can’t wait.” This highlights the need to accelerate elimination efforts of viral hepatitis along with the importance of testing and treatment for those who need it. In many cases, early diagnosis and treatment can prevent or lower the chances of severe complications.
What is hepatitis and how many different types are there?
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis virus. Viral hepatitis can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). There are different viruses that cause hepatitis including hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. While some symptoms are similar, they differ in how they are transmitted and treated.
Hepatitis A and E
Typically spread through contact with contaminated food or water that has been contaminated by an infected person’s stool. Hep E may also come from eating undercooked pork, deer, or shellfish. These viruses typically cause short-term infections which the body is able to fight off and the virus goes away but may become chronic.
Hepatitis B, C, and D
Spread through contact with an infected person’s blood. Hep B and D may also spread through contact with other body fluids that may occur due to sharing drug needles or having unprotected sex. These viruses can cause short-term and long-lasting infections leading to complications including cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer.
While it is possible to contract viral hepatitis without any noticeable symptoms, common symptoms include: fever, fatigue, joint pain, nauseas/vomiting, loss of appetite, yellowing of the skin or eyes, dark urine, or pale, clay-colored stool.
According to the WHA, there are several reasons why action can’t wait.
People living with viral hepatitis who are unaware can’t wait for testingPeople living with this virus can’t wait for life-saving treatmentsPregnant mothers can’t wait for hepatitis screening and treatmentNewborn babies can’t wait for birth dose vaccinationPeople affected by hepatitis can’t wait to end stigma and discriminationCommunity organizations can’t wait for greater investmentDecision makers can’t wait and must act now to make hepatitis elimination a reality through political will and funding
Nutrition for Chronic Hepatitis
The goal of a hepatitis diet is to reduce and minimize stress on the liver. While a healthy dietary pattern is important for everyone, it should be a priority for those managing chronic hepatitis. Following a healthy diet may help manage symptoms of hepatitis as well as preserve liver function and optimal weight. In order to maintain energy, it is important to include adequate calories every day based on age, gender, and activity level. Many of the principles of basic nutrition and healthy eating patterns should be considered. These include a focus on foods such as:
Vegetables and Fruits
Vegetables and fruits provide the body with vitamins and minerals to support a healthy body. In addition, green leafy vegetables may lessen the fatty acid composition in the liver. Vegetables and fruits also provide fiber that will keep one full and help decrease the desire for less healthy foods and treats that lack nutrient density.
This category includes foods such as bread, rice, pasta, and oats. Focus on whole grains such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta rather than refined grains such as white bread, white rice, or white pasta. Since too many carbohydrates can lead to blood sugar dysregulation, those with liver disease should discuss individualized carbohydrate needs with their health care provider.
Protein Rich Foods
Adequate protein can help those with chronic hepatitis avoid malnutrition and muscle wasting and help the body repair tissue. Too much protein should be avoided because it can lead to a condition known as encephalopathy due to the inability of the liver to filter toxins from the breakdown of these foods from the bloodstream. Researchers recommend 1.0-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This range accommodates those with and without malnourishment. Lean sources of protein include chicken breast, turkey, fish, nonfat yogurt, eggs, and beans.
Replace saturated and trans fats found in red meat and full-fat dairy products with “good fats” including polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, walnuts, avocados, and fatty fish such as salmon. All fats should be consumed in moderation. Healthy fats will help provide enough calories, essential fatty acids, and support the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
Other foods that should be reduced or eliminated to support liver health include excess sodium, added sugars, excess iron, and alcohol.
According to the World Hepatitis Day campaign guidelines, today is the day to raise awareness of viral hepatitis by communicating the urgent need for action!