KOCHI: Viral hepatitis is a major global public health problem affecting 400 million people worldwide. World Hepatitis Day is observed every year on July 28 to create awareness among the public on the disease. This global observance falls on the birthday of Noble laureate, Dr Baruch Blumberg, who discovered the virus in 1967 and developed the first hepatitis B vaccine.Hepatitis is a general term referring to inflammation of the liver. Viral hepatitis can be caused by five different viruses, hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis A and E are transmitted through contaminated water and food. Typical symptoms of acute hepatitis include prodrome of fatigue, anorexia, nausea or vomiting followed by jaundice which lasts for two to four weeks.
Hepatitis B and C are transmitted on exposure to infected blood or body fluids by needle. Other modes of transmission also include perinatally from infected mother to infant and through sexual contact. Symptoms of acute viral hepatitis B include jaundice, malaise, loss of appetite and joint pain. As for hepatitis C, acute hepatitis is rare and most often the patient is unaware that he is infected.
In chronic infection with hepatitis B or C virus, the virus may remain ‘dormant’ causing no damage to the liver which we call as the ‘immune tolerant phase.’ However, at some point the virus starts attacking the liver silently which results in inflammation of the liver. The patient is often is diagnosed only when the he or she presents with complications like gastrointestinal bleeding or even liver cancer.
Looking at the global perspective, 290 million people live with chronic hepatitis B and up to 150 million people have chronic hepatitis C. Nearly 1.4 million people die every year due to chronic hepatitis. India has over 40 million hepatitis B infected patients, second only to China and constitutes around 15 per cent of the global hepatitis B pool.
The alarming fact is that more than 80 per cent of them are totally unaware that they are infected. World Hepatitis Day is commemorated every year under the auspices of WHO and World Hepatitis Alliance This year’s theme is to find “missing millions” – to find the undiagnosed and linking them to care. This would require a massive up scaling of screening awareness among the public. So let this World Hepatitis Day be a great opportunity for us to know your hepatitis status and to spread the word about treatment.Dr Maya Peethambaran is a consultant gastroenterologist and hepatologist at VPS Lakeshore Hospital, Kochi.