WHO Declares Sunday World Hepatitis Day
by Dave Smith
The World Health Organization has designated Sunday as World Hepatitis Day, and Hawaii officials are doing their part to raise awareness about the “silent epidemic” the disease represents.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui have declared July 28 as World Hepatitis Day in Hawaii, and are encouraging its residents to recognize the importance of hepatitis education and testing.
“Hepatitis is a silent epidemic, and most people with hepatitis B or C won’t have symptoms for many years,” said Thaddeus Pham, DOH adult viral hepatitis prevention coordinator.
Pham noted the importance of adults getting for hepatitis B and C, especially those born in Asia or the Pacific Islands (for hepatitis B), and baby boomers born from 1945-1965 (for hepatitis C).
According to DOH Immunization Branch estimates, between 14,000 and 40,000 Hawaii residents have hepatitis B, and approximately 23,000 are living with hepatitis C.
Hepatitis B and C are the most common known causes of liver cancer in Hawaii, and the state has the highest rate of liver cancer in the United States.
“People with hepatitis B and C shouldn’t wait until they feel sick to be tested because there are many things, including treatment, they can do to take care of themselves before they become ill,” Pham said. “The earlier people know they have hepatitis, the better the outcome.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone who has been exposed to blood through needle use, blood transfusion, non-sterile equipment or tattooing should be tested for both hepatitis B and C.
Free hepatitis testing is available from the state Department of Health for eligible individuals, such as those without health insurance.
The United Nations is encouraging the world’s governments to scale up efforts to deal with hepatitis. According to the UN, only a third of the world’s countries currently have national strategies for dealing with the disease.
“Many of the measures needed to prevent the spread of viral hepatitis disease can be put in place right now, and doing so will offset the heavy economic costs of treating and hospitalizing patients in future,” said Dr. Sylvie Briand, director of Pandemic and Epidemic Diseases at WHO.
More information on hepatitis B and C is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/hepatitis, or by calling 1-888-443-7232.
For more information about World Hepatitis Day, go to www.aminumber12.org.