World Hepatitis Day is celebrated on the July 28, across the world, with a special focus each year, in order to bring about awareness about hepatitis among the people. This year, the themes are Find the Missing Millions, to identify the millions of people who had failed to diagnose the disease; and “Invest in Investigations,” to strengthen the diagnostic methods to identify the disease.
Hepatitis infection has occurred in more than 342 million people in the past. Of these, 80 percent are not even aware of the fact that they carry the deadly virus. These carriers need to be identified. The presence of the infection can be confirmed only through blood tests. This is why it is the duty of the doctors to create awareness about the infection.
There are five main types of hepatitis and the type is commonly determined by a laboratory test. Viral hepatitis, including hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C, are distinct diseases that affect the liver and have different hepatitis symptoms and treatments. Other causes of hepatitis include recreational drugs and prescription medications. While Hepatitis A is caused by consuming contaminated food or water, Hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease and Hepatitis C is a commonly transmitted disease via direct contact with the blood of a person who already has the disease. Globally, there are around 250 million people affected by hepatitis C and 300 million people estimated to be a bearer of hepatitis B.
But a person can only become infected by hepatitis D if they already are infected by hepatitis B. Drinking contaminated water can lead to Hepatitis E virus (HEV). Hepatitis X also is one of the diseases which cannot be attributed to any of their viral forms while hepatitis G is another type of hepatitis caused by a specific virus (HGV). The presence of hepatitis itself is a red flag for the body. The initial symptoms of hepatitis are almost similar to those suffering from flu.
Why Should We Not Take This Disease Lightly?
Two out of every three sufferers of liver cancer are carriers of Hepatitis virus. Identifying the presence of these viruses at an early stage and treating them will help prevent the patients from developing liver cancer later in their lives, which could bring down the prevalence of liver cancer by two-thirds. This is why it is important to identify this disease as early as possible.
The fact is that the Hepatitis Virus B and C spread the way HIV virus does – unprotected sex, transfusion of infected blood, sharing needles among drug users, by using unsterilized needles on multiple patients, using the same dialysis machine on infected and uninfected patients, and from mother to child during pregnancy. Using condoms prevents the spreading of this virus.
There are vaccines to prevent the spreading of Hepatitis B virus. For the past 10 years, this vaccine is being given to babies. Those born before this period must inoculate themselves.
Medicines are available to completely get rid of this disease. Therefore, undergoing a complete course of treatment, if the virus is detected in the blood, ensures that the disease is removed.
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
There are many medical treatments available for hepatitis. Treatment options are determined based on the type of hepatitis you have and whether the infection is acute or chronic. But prevention is always a better option than to go through the medical process of treating hepatitis. There are many cases that have come up through the recent research where medical treatments couldn’t help the patients to completely recover. Thus, it’s always advised to lead a healthy life and avoid all the activities which will lead to hepatitis.
A good hygiene also plays an important part in preventing hepatitis. Practicing a good hygiene is one of the key ways to avoid contracting hepatitis A and E. If you’re travelling to a developing country, you must avoid, local water, ice, raw or undercooked shellfish and oysters, raw fruits and vegetables
While hepatitis B, C, and D are contracted through contaminated blood but it can also be prevented by, not sharing drug needles, not sharing razors, not using someone else’s toothbrush, not touching spilled blood.
Dr. Radha M is a Consultant Gastroenterologist, Fortis Malar Hospital, Chennai