Today Is World Hepatitis Day, WHO and CDC Join in Prevention and Awareness Campaign

President Barack Obama will announce today the US commitment to prevention and awareness of a disease that affects more than 500 million people worldwide

By: Melissa Romero

An image of the hepatitis B virus between human cells
Today the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are joining forces to celebrate the global fight against the spread of hepatitis with the fourth annual World Hepatitis Day.

At the White House today, Obama will officially declare July 28 World Hepatitis Day in the US and encourage others to raise public awareness about the life-threatening disease and “silent epidemic.” Click here to watch a live video coverage of the event from 1 to 4 PM.

This year, World Hepatitis Day will honor the late Dr. Baruch Blumberg on his birthday. Blumberg made some of the first major steps towards viral hepatitis prevention. He discovered hepatitis B in 1967 and later won a Nobel Prize for developing an effective vaccine. He died in April.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by a virus, and can cause serious chronic illnesses to the liver. It’s the leading cause of liver cancer and is the most common reason for liver transplants. There are five types of hepatitis, but the three most common found in the United States are hepatitis A, B, and C. World Hepatitis Day specifically raises awareness for hepatitis B and C. In particular, half of all Americans living with hepatitis B are of Asian or Pacific Islander descent, and baby boomers and African-Americans have higher hepatitis C infection rates than other groups.

More than 2 billion people live with the disease worldwide, and each year it kills more than one million people. And while the number of reported cases of all three types in the US has decreased significantly since the 1960s due to more adequate care and vaccines, today more than 500 million people still suffer from hepatitis worldwide—and a good number of that population doesn’t even know they’ve been infected. In the District alone, at last count there were 11,624 cases of hepatitis C and 3,530 cases of hepatitis B reported, according to the District Department of Health.

There are vaccines for both hepatitis A and B. Hepatitis A is a short-term illness that clears on its own after six months, and about 85 percent of people infected with hepatitis B can be cured with treatment. But without a vaccine for hepatitis C, 80 percent are likely to develop a lifelong infection.

To address the lack of knowledge surrounding the disease, this year World Hepatitis Day challenges individuals to be more aware about the disease and its serious health risks. Because hepatitis can be passed by sharing intravenous equipment for drugs and through unprotected sexual contact, there is a large stigma associated with it. This year’s theme hopes to raise awareness that hepatitis “affects everyone, everywhere.”

For more information about hepatitis and how you can be treated, visit the CDC’s website. Click here for a list of hepatitis service locations in the DC.

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