VELLORE: World Hepatitis Day (July 28) is being marked under the aegis of the World Health Organization and World Hepatitis Alliance with renewed hope of curative treatment being made available for patients infected with Hepatitis C.
Speaking to Express, Doctors Uday Zackaraih and K G Sajith attached to the Department of Hepatology at the Christian Medical College said that this year a new treatable and curative strategy has evolved with the introduction of new oral drugs that are cost-effective while reducing the duration of treatment.
Since both Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C viruses are silent, the vast majority of infected individuals have no complaints and are therefore unaware of its presence in their body. In some, hepatitis can lead to liver diseases and even liver cancer, they pointed out.
The aim of World Hepatitis Day is to promote awareness of blood-borne hepatitis viruses and to highlight it as a common illness and that one can protect oneself through simple precautions. For those already infected, effective treatment strategies exist for Hepatitis B and the arrival of newer cost effective short duration oral anti-viral drugs have radically changed the way Hepatitis C is treated, they added.
Describing the liver as the body’s ‘factory’ that converts food into products needed for growth and life, the doctors said that Hepatitis is an inflammation (swelling) of the liver commonly caused by infections, excess alcohol or obesity. The viruses that commonly infect the liver include Hepatitis A, B, C and E. While Hepatitis A and E are spread through intake of unhygienic food and water that results in an infected person having jaundice (yellow eyes) which usually settles within a few weeks.
Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C on the other hand spreads through infected blood or body fluids through unprotected sex, sharing of razor blades, needles,toothbrushes and unsterile tattooing or body puncturing. These viruses can also spread from an infected pregnant mother to child during delivery or by transfusion of infected blood. The danger here is that many patients may not have symptoms of jaundice and may go on to develop a chronic illness.
The Hepatitis B virus is about 50-100 times more infectious than the HIV virus and around 4 percent of the population in India is estimated to have been affected by this virus. Due to better detection rates, Hepatitis C cases are also on the increase now.
Worldwide, an estimated 2 billion people having been exposed to hepatitis B and around 500 million are living with either chronic Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C resulting in approximately a million deaths annually. The good news however is that Hepatitis B is preventable by vaccination. Three doses given one month apart and six months later provide effective protection in those who are not already infected. The vaccine is safe in all age groups.
The department organized a Continuing Medical Education programme on Saturday for the benefit of general practitioners, surgeons and healthcare professionals about the silent nature of the illness in its initial stages, availability of newer treatment strategies and prevention through early vaccination.