World Hepatitis Day takes place every year on July 28. It is one of only four disease-specific awareness days endorsed by the World Health Organization. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, caused by a virus. There are five main hepatitis viruses: types A, B, C, D and E. Of these five, hepatitis B and C are life-threatening, infectious diseases that can cause serious liver damage and cancer, resulting in 1.3 million deaths every year.
In the United States alone, nearly 5 million people are estimated to be infected with hepatitis B or C. However, 90 percent of people with hepatitis B and 80 percent of people with hepatitis C are unaware they have the disease. This creates the possibility for millions of people to develop fatal liver cancer or unknowingly spread the infection to others.
The hepatitis B and C viruses are commonly contracted by receiving blood transfusions; during childbirth from mother to infant; sharing razors or toothbrushes; and tattooing or body piercing done without adequately sterilized equipment. The hepatitis B virus can also be spread through having unprotected sex with an infected person.
If you think you could be at risk for either hepatitis B or C, it is important to get tested. If you are unsure of your status, talk to your primary care physician (PCP). The best way to prevent hepatitis B is to get vaccinated. For the latest information on hepatitis across the globe, the World Hepatitis Alliance offers additional information on their website.