Dean of King Saud University's College of Medicine and University Hospitals Supervisor Mubarak Al-Faran recently kicked off activities of the 2011 World Hepatitis Day, which will take place internationally on July 28.
In line with the Alliance’s goals, the World Hepatitis Day activities at KSU, under the slogan “This is Hepatitis”, are helping people realize the global scale of viral hepatitis infection. Dr. Sulaiman Al-Shammari, the head of the University Hospitals Health Education Center, noted that this campaign aims to improve Saudi Arabian citizens’ awareness of hepatitis, informing people of its symptoms and available treatments.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E can cause acute and chronic infection and inflammation of the liver leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer. These viruses constitute a major global health risk with around 350 million people being chronically infected with hepatitis B and around 170 million people being chronically infected with hepatitis C. Both are both ‘silent’ viruses, and because many people feel no symptoms, and are infected for years without knowing it.
If left untreated, both the hepatitis B and C viruses can lead to liver scarring (cirrhosis). If you have liver cirrhosis, you have a risk of life-threatening complications such as bleeding, ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity), coma, liver cancer, liver failure and death. In the case of chronic hepatitis B, liver cancer might even appear before you have developed cirrhosis.
Because of such statistics and the public health concerns, KSU has joined the international effort to combat hepatitis, which has a much higher prevalence than HIV or any cancer, yet attracts much less media attention.
Dean Al-Faran opened the event at King Khalid University Hospital with a tour of an exhibition with various educational and health organization displays, which will also be shown this week at the King Abdulaziz University Hospital and Riyadh’s Hayat Mall.
In his welcome to guests, Dr. Al-Shammari stressed that hepatitis B and C are among the world’s most pressing health problems, ravaging patients around the world. He pointed out, however, that the introduction of a hepatitis B vaccination in the Kingdom two decades ago has significantly reduced the prevalence of the disease, consequently reducing the number of patients suffering from complications such as cirrhosis and cancer of the liver.
“KSU and a number of cooperating health organizations have joined World Hepatitis Day,” he said, “To fight against this disease, and its celebration is a useful tool to educate the public and health workers about the potential dangers of this disease.”
He explained that medical research has identified the ways the disease can spread, which include the exchange of body fluids through blood transfusion or sexual intercourse.
“This is why the safety of transfusion blood stocks must be guaranteed and infection through sexual intercourse should be avoided,” he said. “Since hepatitis can be sexually transmitted from a person carrying the virus to a healthy person, one should receive a medical check-up before getting married.” He also noted the obvious necessity of abstaining from illegal sexual relations outside marriage.
Dr. Al-Shammari concluded that health workers must endeavor to avoid contracting the disease themselves while caring for the patients, while those living with the burden of hepatitis, must constantly monitor their cases and strictly following their physician’s advice.
Dr. Khalid Alswat, head of the clinical research committee for KSU’s newly established Liver Research Center, said viral infections are among the most renowned liver diseases, and that the number of cases has dwindled in recent years thanks to vaccination and improved diagnosis. He warned the audience, however, that viral infections of the liver continue to burden health institutes all around the world.
Dr. Alswat added that the data acquires importance if we recall that one out of every 12 persons in the world carry the hepatitis B or C virus, more likely to affect people than HIV or any type of cancer. He said that public efforts to address hepatitis do not match the seriousness of the problem, and that many people will not know they have the virus until its later stages. He added that hepatitis statistics vary from country to country, yet those in the Kingdom are comparable to average world figures.
The event, organized by the Health Education Center in the University Hospitals, in cooperation with the Digestive System Unit, the World Hepatitis Association (WHA), and the Saudi Gastroenterology Association. It was held in the. In addition, to the exhibition and awareness campaign, the event included an entertainment program, instructional competitions, distribution of information leaflets and memorial gifts.
The World Hepatitis Alliance reports a number of differences between hepatitis B and C:
- While there is a vaccine that protects against hepatitis B infection, there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C
- Both viruses can be contracted though blood-to-blood contact
- Hepatitis B is more infectious than hepatitis C and can also be spread through saliva, semen and vaginal fluid
- In the case of hepatitis B, infection can occur through having unprotected sex with an infected person. Please note that this is much rarer in the case of hepatitis C
- While unlikely, it is possible to contract hepatitis B through kissing. You cannot contract hepatitis C through kissing
- Neither virus is easily spread through everyday contact. You cannot get infected with hepatitis B or C by shaking hands, coughing or sneezing, or by using the same toilet. There are different treatments for the two viruses. While treatment can control chronic hepatitis B, it can often cure hepatitis C
- Even if treatment is not an option for you, you can do something about your disease. A healthy lifestyle is important. Alcohol, smoking, eating fatty foods, being overweight or extreme dieting (eating no food at all) may worsen your liver disease. Therefore, try to avoid all alcohol, stop smoking, eat a low fat diet with enough fruit and vegetables, and reduce your weight if necessary.