Guest Commentary: Prevention, education essential to eliminating viral hepatitis

In this guest commentary, Thelma King Thiel, RN, BA, former CEO of both the American Liver Foundation and the Hepatitis Foundation International, discusses prevention of hepatitis through education . After losing her son to biliary atresia, Theil focused on training health care providers about liver health. She recently founded the Liver Health Initiative to continue to fill the knowledge gap that exists about liver health.

Prior to the mid-1970s, 75% of cirrhosis cases were attributed to alcohol abuse. However, according to the , hepatitis B — discovered in 1965 — and hepatitis C — discovered in 1989 — are now the leading causes of liver damage.

In spite of major advances in research, including the development of a vaccine to prevent hepatitis B and treatment to cure hepatitis C, these treacherous viruses continue to pose a threat to the health of millions worldwide.

Despite efforts to eliminate these diseases through awareness campaigns encouraging screening of baby boomers, control efforts through needle-exchange programs and recommendations for immunization of newborns, children and at-risk individuals, CDC reports a recent 150% increase in the incidence of hepatitis.

Missing link

The missing link in efforts to eliminate viral hepatitis is providing primary preventive liver health education to empower individuals to protect their life-sustaining liver, assess their risk infection and seek screening and treatment if necessary.

How can viral hepatitis be eliminated if individuals lack an understanding of the important role the liver plays in sustaining their health and life itself, and how hepatitis viruses can attack and kill liver cells, causing irreparable damage, cirrhosis and even liver cancer?

Current recommendations to prevent hepatitis B rely heavily on vaccinations. However, vaccinations are because individuals lack an understanding of the importance of protecting their liver, and its hundreds of life-sustaining functions. With no vaccine available for hepatitis C, the only method of prevention depends on individuals being motivated to avoid risk behaviors.

Education in schools

Obviously, understanding the rationale for developing and maintaining healthful lifestyle behaviors is critical to controlling these diseases, and must begin as early as possible.

However, education about the liver has been absent in schools for decades contributing to an enormous pool of uniformed individuals who are participating daily in liver-damaging activities. Guilt and stigma also contribute to individuals’ reluctance to admit that they may be infected and to seek testing.

“There is still a desperate need to increase the understanding of liver wellness and disease prevention in the American public. By the time I meet many patients, their liver disease has silently advanced to irreversible damage,” reports David Pound, MD, president of Indianapolis Gastroenterology Research Foundation.

Elimination of a disease, depends on prevention, and prevention depends on education.

The silent, noncomplaining liver is its own worst enemy. It can be severely damaged without setting off any alarms.

Until we start being proactive by requiring liver health education and hepatitis prevention information through as many programs and outlets as possible, we will continue to be fighting a losing battle.

Thelma Thiel, RN, BA , can be reached via email at livrlady@gmail.com or on Twitter @the_liver_lady. For more information on the Liver Health Initiative, please visit liver-health.org.

Disclosures: Thiel reports no relevant financial relationships.

 

In this guest commentary, Thelma King Thiel, RN, BA, former CEO of both the American Liver Foundation and the Hepatitis Foundation International, discusses prevention of hepatitis through education . After losing her son to biliary atresia, Theil focused on training health care providers about liver health. She recently founded the Liver Health Initiative to continue to fill the knowledge gap that exists about liver health.

Prior to the mid-1970s, 75% of cirrhosis cases were attributed to alcohol abuse. However, according to the , hepatitis B — discovered in 1965 — and hepatitis C — discovered in 1989 — are now the leading causes of liver damage.

In spite of major advances in research, including the development of a vaccine to prevent hepatitis B and treatment to cure hepatitis C, these treacherous viruses continue to pose a threat to the health of millions worldwide.

Despite efforts to eliminate these diseases through awareness campaigns encouraging screening of baby boomers, control efforts through needle-exchange programs and recommendations for immunization of newborns, children and at-risk individuals, CDC reports a recent 150% increase in the incidence of hepatitis.

Missing link

The missing link in efforts to eliminate viral hepatitis is providing primary preventive liver health education to empower individuals to protect their life-sustaining liver, assess their risk infection and seek screening and treatment if necessary.

How can viral hepatitis be eliminated if individuals lack an understanding of the important role the liver plays in sustaining their health and life itself, and how hepatitis viruses can attack and kill liver cells, causing irreparable damage, cirrhosis and even liver cancer?

Current recommendations to prevent hepatitis B rely heavily on vaccinations. However, vaccinations are because individuals lack an understanding of the importance of protecting their liver, and its hundreds of life-sustaining functions. With no vaccine available for hepatitis C, the only method of prevention depends on individuals being motivated to avoid risk behaviors.

Education in schools

Obviously, understanding the rationale for developing and maintaining healthful lifestyle behaviors is critical to controlling these diseases, and must begin as early as possible.

However, education about the liver has been absent in schools for decades contributing to an enormous pool of uniformed individuals who are participating daily in liver-damaging activities. Guilt and stigma also contribute to individuals’ reluctance to admit that they may be infected and to seek testing.

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“There is still a desperate need to increase the understanding of liver wellness and disease prevention in the American public. By the time I meet many patients, their liver disease has silently advanced to irreversible damage,” reports David Pound, MD, president of Indianapolis Gastroenterology Research Foundation.

Elimination of a disease, depends on prevention, and prevention depends on education.

The silent, noncomplaining liver is its own worst enemy. It can be severely damaged without setting off any alarms.

Until we start being proactive by requiring liver health education and hepatitis prevention information through as many programs and outlets as possible, we will continue to be fighting a losing battle.

Thelma Thiel, RN, BA , can be reached via email at livrlady@gmail.com or on Twitter @the_liver_lady. For more information on the Liver Health Initiative, please visit liver-health.org.

Disclosures: Thiel reports no relevant financial relationships.