Tue, Oct 25, 2016 | updated 03:46 PM IST

Hepatitis: The health threat we are ignoring

Updated: Jul 28, 2016 18:10 IST

New Delhi, Jul 28 (ANI): With 28 July being observed as World Hepatitis Day, here are some things that you should know about the "silent killer" disease.

About one million Indians are at risk of acquiring the hepatitis B infection and about 10,000 die from the hepatitis B virus (HBV) every year. This is a vast number, especially considering the fact that it is a vaccine-preventable disease.

According to Zoya Brar, founder and CEO of Core Diagnostics, "This shows that there is a 'KAP (Knowledge/ Attitude/ Practice)-gap' for hepatitis B in our country. Unfortunately, the disease is plagued with a lot of misconceptions and stigma. Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluids infected with the HBV enter the body of a person who is not infected."

She added, "People can become infected at birth (spread from an infected mother to her baby during birth), sex with an infected partner, sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment, and exposure to blood from needle sticks injuries or other sharp instruments."

Brar noted that if a person, who has been exposed to HBV, gets the Hepatitis B vaccine and/or a shot called 'HBIG' (Hepatitis B immune globulin) within 24 hours, the infection may be prevented. Once injected, one can develop antibodies that protect him/her from the virus for life.

"Since many people with Hepatitis B do not have symptoms, doctors diagnose the disease by one or more blood tests. These tests look for the presence of antibodies or antigens. There are many different blood tests available to diagnose HBV infection. The most popular and commonly performed test is the test for the Australia antigen or HBsAg. This test has a high sensitivity and specificity for detection of the HBV and is supplemented by other tests like HBcAg, HBeAg, HBV-DNA, and liver function tests. There is no medication available to treat acute hepatitis B," she said.

The hepatitis B and C viruses are blood-borne infections that are spread through parenteral route. In India, we should be worried, because 3-6 billion injections are given each year, of which two-thirds are unsafely administered. This makes a large part of the population vulnerable to viruses transmitted through the blood.

These silent killers live inside a body for decades, without showing any symptoms. When symptoms finally appear, they signal that the liver itself has been affected, making treatment difficult. Another reason doctors are worried about the spread is because hepatitis B is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV and hepatitis C is 10 times more infectious. Yet, while people are by and large aware of HIV, there is little awareness about hepatitis.

Dr Siddharth Srivastava, associate professor of gastroenterology in GB Pant Hospital, Delhi, said, "The irony is that hepatitis B has a vaccine, but no cure, while hepatitis C has no vaccine, but does have a cure. Laid down WHO safe injection protocols should be followed by healthcare practitioners. However, patients too need to be vigilant and know of the safe injection practices, like the use of sterile, single-use, reuse prevention syringes."

He added, "Staff should wash their hands before administering the injection, and they should clean the area of the injection adequately. They should definitely not be touching the injection with their hands. This year's call for the eradication of hepatitis by 2030 can be partially achieved if these are followed."

Varun Khanna, managing director at BD-India, said, "Hepatitis is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV and we recognize the fact that Hepatitis is a growing problem. Alarming statistics have shown that 40 percent of the new Hepatitis B and C cases are due to unsafe injection practices. BD is engaged in several projects to improve clinical practices including safe injections and blood collection practices. It is imperative to spread awareness among medical practitioners, patients and the public at large about the dangers of unsafe injection practices in spreading this easily preventable disease." (ANI)