Wednesday, June 23, 2021
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Combine efforts to control viral hepatitis infection

Like every year, World Health Organisation (WHO) observed World Hepatitis Day on July 28 with an aim to eliminate the infectious disease by 2030. Hepatitis kills about 1.4 million people every year worldwide and affects about hundreds of millions. Viral hepatitis is the most common cause of acute and chronic liver disease in the world with over half the world’s population exposed to the different hepatotrophic viruses. According to health experts, around 5,00,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver diseases in India and an estimated 4.7 million HCV infections can be attributed to poor needle practices. There has been an eight per cent rise in the number of HCV cases among pregnant women in the last one decade. One lakh Indians lose the battle against a very curable disease every year. Unlike tuberculosis and HIV, the government has still not formed a national policy to eradicate the disease which infects 40 to 60 million Indians currently.

The disease may present itself in the form of acute or chronic infection if not diagnosed in its early stage. There are no distinct symptoms in the early stages. The infection can go undetected for years, and many people do not know they are infected until much later. This makes spreading awareness all the more important. Unsafe injection practices such as reuse, incorrect disposal and poor sterilisation of syringes are increasingly contributing to Hepatitis C Virus infection in India. Hepatitis C (HCV) is 10 times more infectious than HIV. It is asymptomatic, which means it does not exhibit any obvious symptoms of sickness in its initial stages.

Hepatitis is a liver disease or infection generally characterised by the presence of inflammatory cells in the tissues of the liver. It generally has no symptoms but the virus can lead to jaundice. It may have a short-term impact or may become chronic, depending on its type, immunity of the patient, spread and timely diagnosis. There are five main Hepatitis viruses namely A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis virus B and C causes prolonged liver illness, liver failure and malignancy. Hepatitis A and E cause acute viral illness and rapid liver failure in approximately 4-10 per cent cases resulting in the need for emergency liver transplant or death. Hepatitis E is associated with high mortality in pregnant women and the elderly.

It is reported that 60 per cent of the newborns are covered under the vaccination in India, which is good because the future generation is protected against HBV. But the awareness and prevalence of hepatitis among people in rural India is still a question.

Decreasing the viral load in the body using antiviral drugs also decreases the transmission of the Hepatitis B and C virus. The rate of infection for Hepatitis A and E varies every year as these are transmitted through water and food and generally cause outbreaks in the community due to contaminated food/water intake.

There are many myths and misconceptions about Hepatitis B even among educated people in society. The first misconception is that it is a killer virus more dangerous than AIDS virus. Though both the diseases can get transmitted through blood or body fluid and Hepatitis B is more readily transmitted than HIV, the similarity ends there.

A better public health response will be required involving governmental, academic, and community-based organisations. A combined effort and sensible stride towards the direction of prevention of viral hepatitis infection and disease control can help accomplish the goal.

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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