Wednesday, 27 July 2011


“Is life worth living? It all depends on the liver.” - William James

Today is World Hepatitis Day, which is an annual event providing an international focus for patient groups and people living with hepatitis B and C. On this day especially, interested groups can raise awareness and influence real change in disease prevention and access to testing and treatment for these killer diseases. The World Hepatitis Alliance first launched World Hepatitis Day in 2008. From that time, many events have taken place around the world, raising public awareness and media coverage.

Following the World Health Assembly in May 2010, it was agreed that World Hepatitis Day would be recognised annually on the 28th of July, honouring Nobel Laureate Professor Baruch Blumberg, discoverer of the hepatitis B virus, who celebrates his birthday on that date. This year marks the first official world-wide commemoration of this important day, and is supported by the WHO.

There are about 500 million people worldwide that have either hepatitis B or hepatitis C. This represents 1 in 12 people, and was the basis for the 2008 World Hepatitis Day “Am I Number 12?” campaign. The diseases are caused by two different types of viruses, which however, target the liver in a similar way and can cause extensive liver damage. If left untreated and unmanaged, hepatitis B or C can lead to liver cirrhosis (extensive scarring) and other complications, including liver failure or even liver cancer. Every year 1.5 million people die from either hepatitis B or C.

Hepatitis B and C are spread by virus-contaminated blood and body fluids of a sufferer, which are introduced into the body of another person. This can happen when unscreened blood is transfused, during unhygienic tattooing and body piercing, intravenous drug use, unprotected intercourse, during childbirth (from infected mother to baby) and other procedures involving exchange of body fluids. Effective vaccines are available for Hepatitis B, but not for Hepatitis C. In all cases prevention of the infection by diminishing risk of contracting the virus is advisable.

People with Hepatitis B and C can develop lifelong infections and become carriers of the disease. This is quite dangerous, not only because their livers may become very damaged over time, but because the infected carriers can spread the virus to other people. It is generally these people with long-term infections and liver damage that require extensive treatment, good management and support.

Several treatments are available for people infected with Hepatitis virus B and they include drugs such as lamivudine, adefovir, tenofovir, telbivudine, entecavir and interferon. For Hepatitis C infection, treatments include various standard drugs (interferon and ribavirin) and newly approved drugs (boceprevir and telaprevir). In both cases, patients benefit from good diets, no alcohol intake and also avoidance of drugs that are broken down by the liver.

Complementary therapies are used by some people with hepatitis, in conjunction with their conventional medical treatments. Complementary therapists can provide useful advice regarding diet and lifestyle, relaxation and meditation techniques. Some herbal treatments are also given, such as milk thistle (containing silymarin, a liver protective substance). Laboratory studies suggest that silymarin may benefit the liver by protecting and promoting the growth of liver cells, fighting oxidation (a chemical process that can damage cells), and inhibiting inflammation. Ginseng is also said to beneficial, as are liquorice extract, schizandra and sophora root extract. TJ-108, a mixture of herbs used in Japanese traditional medicine is also being used with anecdotal success. However, No complementary treatment has been scientifically proven yet to successfully treat hepatitis C. A panel of medical and scientific experts concluded from evidence gathered, however, that “alternative and nontraditional medicines” should be researched more rigorously.

If you have Hepatitis B or C, follow the directions of your doctors and discuss with them openly any other treatments you are considering in conjunction with the conventional ones. This is especially important with some herbal remedies as it is well-known that some herbs can actually considerably damage an already compromised liver (e.g. kava and comfrey).

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