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Cape Town - As the world marks Hepatitis Day on Saturday, the City of Cape Town’s health department encouraged the public to know their viral hepatitis status and help prevent the spread of the disease by focusing on safe lifestyle practices and good hygiene habits.

"Hepatitis is a viral infection that targets the cells of the liver and causes inflammation. Among the many strains of the hepatitis virus, the most commonly seen strains are hepatitis A, B, and C," mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services JP Smith said.

"Viral hepatitis is known to cause more deaths worldwide than HIV. Around four million people in South Africa are chronically infected with hepatitis B and C. City Health’s drive in marking World Hepatitis Day is to encourage testing and to ensure a healthy lifestyle, which includes good personal and environmental hygiene.

"Many diseases are caused by the transmission of germs and infection can be easily avoided through the simple act of handwashing. Our environmental health practitioners do hundreds of health and hygiene outreach programmes each year to convey this message and teach young and old the benefits of simple hygiene habits," Smith said.

Hepatitis B and C differed from hepatitis A in that they could cause much more serious liver disease and were spread through close contact with someone who had the infection. About 6.7 percent of South Africans were infected with hepatitis B, but many did not know their status.

This could occur through unprotected sex, sharing syringes during intravenous drug use, or from mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy and breastfeeding. People who were infected often presented later with jaundice, fatigue, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and dark urine or pale stools, he said.

The good news was that hepatitis B could be prevented through routine vaccinations. All parents should take their children for their routine vaccination free of charge at any City Health facility. Until recently, hepatitis C was an untreatable chronic disease. With the development of new antiviral drugs, hepatitis C could now be treated effectively. This meant that all forms of the disease could be treated and help should be sought at selected local clinics.

The public could help prevent the spread of the hepatitis A virus by always washing hands after using the toilet and ensuring that fruit and vegetables were washed with clean water before eating.

As hepatitis B and C were spread through close contact with blood and body fluids, always use a condom during sex. "Also, if you use intravenous drugs use a clean sterile needle and syringe each time. If you need help with your drug addiction, the city has six Matrix® sites that can assist: Tafelsig, Albow Gardens, Delft South, Town 2 in Khayelitsha, Parkwood, and Ruimte Road in Manenberg," Smith said.

African News Agency (ANA)