By Rachel Iannotti
Last week the US kicked off Hepatitis Awareness Week on July 26th in preparation for World Hepatitis Day which is recognized annually on July 28th. This day commemorates the birthday of Dr. Baruch Blumberg, who first discovered hepatitis B in 1967 and developed the first hep. B vaccine two years later. World Hepatitis Day is recognized by several national and international organizations, including the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis viruses encapsulate several infectious disease strains – hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E – which can cause acute and chronic liver disease, and whose mortality rate has been increasing over the past few decades.
Viral hepatitis outbreaks can range in several epidemiologic factors, including mode of transmission, endemic area (geographic location or pertaining to a group of people wherein a disease is commonly found), and response to preventative and curative treatment. Hep. A and hep. E are spread via fecal-oral transmission and are typically endemic in regions with reduced food security and less established sanitation practices. Hep. B, C, and D are spread via infected bodily fluids and sexual transmission. In highly endemic areas, hep. B is typically spread via perinatal transmission during birth.
Although endemic throughout many parts of the world, viral hepatitis is also considered a “silent epidemic,” with numerous outbreaks occurring globally every year. For example, there is currently a hep. A outbreak in the US spreading via person-to-person contact. Luckily, it is easily preventable with a single dose of a highly effective hep. A vaccine. Meanwhile, the UK is currently wrangling a pediatric hepatitis outbreak that went global and is believed to be related to an adeno-associated virus and missed early immunity resulting from COVID lockdowns. Several leaps have been made in treatment options for those infected with viral hepatitis. This includes curative anti-viral drug therapy for hep. C, novel hep. E vaccinations, and improved hep. B vaccine campaigns. Regardless of the strain, severity, and transmission mode, viral hepatitis remains a global issue requiring further education and attention.
Rachel Iannotti is a first-year MPH student in The Graduate School at Northwestern University. She has participated in research endeavors primarily focused on neuroscience and its influences on health and human performance. Her outreach work includes a prior internship with the VISN 17 Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans, participation in the PPH Student Senate and Northwestern Public Health Review and work as a substitute teacher and clinical volunteer.