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How hepatitis affects women’s health

Health By Derrick Oluoch

The world marks Hepatitis Day 2020 under the theme “Hepatitis-free Future” with a strong focus on preventing hepatitis B among mothers and newborns. Hepatitis Day is observed on 28th July every year.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), about 100 million people are suffering from undiagnosed hepatitis worldwide. Most cases are undiagnosed since the most common forms of hepatitis, B and C, damage the liver slowly without symptoms. As thus hepatitis sometimes referred to as the silent killer.

WHO defines hepatitis as the inflammation of the liver and viral hepatitis is usually caused by hepatitis A, B or C virus. The inflammation happens when the immune system senses danger such as a virus and sends white blood cells to surround the area.

While Hepatitis A causes acute (short-term) infection only, Hepatitis B and C cause acute infection that can lead to chronic (long-term) infection. Left untreated chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C can cause scarring of the liver called cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can cause liver disease, cancer or failure.

Nonetheless, there are given steps that every women can take to ensure they don’t end up with hepatitis, Corinna Dan, a viral hepatitis policy advisor, explains. She highlights a few areas for every woman’s consideration:

How viral hepatitis is spread

Hepatitis B and C are found in infected person’s blood and other body fluids including semen and vaginal fluids. On the other hand, Hepatitis A is found in an infected person’s stool.

Hepatitis B is mostly spread through unprotected sexual intercourse, exposure to infected blood or perinatally – from an infected mother to her infant during child birth.

Hepatitis C is mostly spread through exposure to the blood of an infected person and rarely transmitted sexual intercourse.

Hepatitis A is spread through close personal contact with someone who has the virus - by living with them in the same household or having sex with them. Contaminated food or water are a common cause of hepatitis outbreaks.

Viral hepatitis and pregnancy

Mothers to be are encouraged to go for Hepatitis testing so as to ensure the safety of their unborn babies. When a mother is diagnosed before giving birth, their infant can be protected from infection through vaccination and Hepatitis B immune globulin.

Mothers with older children should also ensure that their children get tested and vaccinated. They should constantly share with their health providers, including going for regular checkups, about taking treatment and how they can reduce their chances of getting liver disease or cancer.

Breastfeeding if you have viral hepatitis

According to womenshealth.org, a mother can still breastfeed her baby even if they have viral hepatitis as viral hepatitis cannot be passed through breast milk.

However, if a mother has hepatitis C and their nipple or the skin around their nipple is cracked, they should stop nursing their baby on that breasts until all the sores completely heal.

They can pump or hand-express milk from that breast and throw away until it heals. The milk might be contaminated with hepatitis C from the cracked or bleeding skin.

Mother-to-infant transmission of Hepatitis B can be prevented

Unlike Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B is vaccine-preventable and mothers are encouraged to seek treatment as early as possible.

Tragically, 9 out of 10 babies who are infected with HBV at birth end up developing chronic infections that remain throughout their lives with about 25% of them dying from cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer later in life.

How women get hepatitis C

Hepatitis C spreads from person-to-person through contact with infected blood. Women who work in industries where they come in contact with blood have a slightly higher risk of exposure. They may include manicurists, facialists, housekeeping and nursing.

To protect oneself from infection, avoid contact with cuts and open sores; wear disposal gloves and sterilize equipment after every use.

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