Hepatitis – a recap and a warning
Hepatitis affects around 0.3% of the UK population.[i] However, prevalence is higher among dental professionals[ii][iii], because they are more likely to encounter the blood and bodily fluids of others.[iv] Consequently, they are at an increased risk of infection.
Why is hepatitis dangerous?
Hepatitis B and C cause more than 1.3 million deaths globally each year. Likewise, they are responsible for 2 in 3 cases of liver cancer deaths worldwide[v] and are associated with both chronic liver disease and liver failure. In the UK, approximately 180,000 people are infected with chronic hepatitis B.[vi] Hepatitis C affects over 210,000 people, though not all display symptoms.[vii] It’s important that dental professionals protect themselves. As such, vaccination is strongly recommended for all dental professionals.[viii]
Hepatitis symptoms and types
‘Hepatitis’ describes inflammation of the liver. Symptoms include muscle and joint pain, high temperature, feeling unusually tired and loss of appetite. In addition, some people might experience feeling and being sick, stomach pain, dark urine, itchy skin and yellowing of the eyes/skin.
There are several types of the infection:
|Type of hepatitis||Cause / transmission|
|A||Eating contaminated food and drink|
|B||Blood-to-blood contact with an infected person|
|C||Blood-to-blood contact with an infected person|
|D||Blood-to-blood or sexual contact. It only affects people already infected with Hepatitis B|
|E||Consumption of raw or under-cooked meat or seafood|
|Alcoholic||Excessive drinking of alcohol over many years|
|Autoimmune||A very rare condition that involves the immune system attacking and damaging the liver|
Mission: Find the missing millions
It is thought that around 300 million sufferers are undiagnosed worldwide. So, if more people know the signs, more will know to seek help if symptoms present. Above all, this would help to reduce the spread of infection.
World Hepatitis Day is on 28th July this year. It aims to raise awareness of the disease in order to improve diagnoses and, hence, to find the ‘missing millions’. All members of the dental team can play their part. For instance, you can check your current vaccine record and book any necessary boosters. Moreover, you can ensure that your infection control and prevention protocols are up-to-scratch, and that your training in the area is up-to-date.
Similarly, you could raise awareness among patients. Simple actions like making information available in the waiting room or giving out leaflets will help to spread the message. Further details on how you could get involved are available on the World Hepatitis Day website. There are also various resources to download.
[i] Department of Health. Getting ahead of the curve: a strategy for combating infectious diseases (including other aspects of health protection). A report by the Chief Medical Officer. London: 2002. Click here to read the report. [Accessed July 2019]
[ii] Dahiya P, Kamal R, Sharma V, Kaur S. “Hepatitis” – Prevention and management in dental practice. J Educ Health Promot. 2015;4:33. Published 2015 May 19. doi:10.4103/2277-9531.157188
[iii] Narasimhan M, Hazarey VK, Varadarajan S. Prevalence of Hepatitis B surface antigen in dental personnel. J Oral Maxillofac Pathol. 2015;19(1):34–36. doi:10.4103/0973-029X.157198