Early testing and treatment for Hepatitis C could help 71 million people worldwide living with the disease and prevent long-term health issues such as liver disease and cancer. It’s an important reminder on World Hepatitis Day, which takes place every year on July 28th.
“Everyone should be tested for Hepatitis C, the most common, but also the most deadly, form of hepatitis. The challenge is that most people do not realize that they have Hepatitis C, as the disease often does not have symptoms,” said Omar Massoud, M.D., Chief of Hepatology at Cleveland Clinic. “If Hepatitis C patients are not tested, then they cannot be treated, and if they do not seek treatment, then they can risk serious liver disease, liver cancer, the need for liver transplants, or even death. By the time they have symptoms and seek treatment for cirrhosis, it may be too late.”
Worldwide, about 325 million people live with one of five hepatitis liver diseases, including 71 million people living with Hepatitis C, the most common but also the easiest to cure, according to the World Health Organization. Hepatitis C is often caused by unsafe injection practices or unsafe health care.
While anti-viral medication can cure about 95 percent of Hepatitis C infections, many people living with the disease live in low-to-middle income countries that can face challenges in diagnosis and treatment. The World Health Organization aims to reduce new hepatitis infections by 90 percent and deaths by 65 percent by 2030.
With the World Hepatitis Alliance’s World Hepatitis Day 2021 being held under the theme “Hepatitis Can’t Wait,” the group emphasizes that 80 percent of people living with Hepatitis C do not know they have the disease. Worldwide, the Alliance adds that a person dies every 30 seconds from a hepatitis-related illness.
Treatment for Hepatitis C has vastly improved over the past five years. “The good news is that more than 90 percent of Hepatitis C cases are cured in two to three months,” said Dr. Massoud. “Hepatitis patients no longer need to have injections, they can just take simple, easy, and safe capsules with no or only a few mild side effects.”
Currently, there are vaccines only for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B, both of which can be treated with medication.
Dr. Massoud also highlighted the challenges of pregnant mothers who have hepatitis, especially Hepatitis B and C. Mothers who have Hepatitis B almost always transmit it on to their children. Pregnant mothers with Hepatitis B should be evaluated and treated to decrease the chance of transmission. In turn, their infants should also be vaccinated. . For mothers who have Hepatitis C, there is a very low chance, of about five percent, that they transmit the virus onto their children, who will then require treatment.