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How Much You Know About Hepatitis?


Hepatitis is a significant public health problem in India, yet the disease awareness is very low among the general population. World Hepatitis Day (28th July) is an opportunity to top up awareness, diagnosis and treatment of the disease

As defined by WHO, Inflammation of the liver is usually referred to as Hepatitis. “Viral Hepatitis is a widespread infectious disease normally caused by Hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E. The condition can be self-limiting or can progress to liver fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer,’’ informs Dr Devendra Taneja, Senior physician and GP in Gurgaon.

In India, it is estimated that there are four crore people suffering from Hepatitis B and 0.6-1.2 crore people suffering from Hepatitis C. Hence in our country, viral Hepatitis is now recognised as a severe public health problem. It places a huge disease, social and economic burden on the affected individual, family and since its prognosis is obscure it is also compared to the HIV infection, rather considered worse as people in many cases do not even get to know that they suffer with the infection of Hepatitis B until the disease take complete toll on their liver.

Different kind of Hepatitis

In India, viral Hepatitis (A to E) remains a significant public health challenge since it is usually caused by consuming contaminated food.

Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is often present in the faeces of infected individuals and is commonly transmitted through contaminated water/food and seldom through unsafe sex (incubation period: 15-50 days). In most cases, the infection is mild, and the recovery is not only complete, but it also confers long-term immunity. However, sometimes severe infections can be life-threatening.

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is mostly transmitted through infected blood and semen/ other body fluids, particularly during the transfusion of contaminated blood/ blood products, use of contaminated needles/syringes (esp. in the case of drug users) or sexual contact with an infected person, and sometimes from infected mothers to infants at the time of birth. “There is a rise in Hepatitis B cases, the reason for which can be partly attributed to unsafe sex and sex with multiple partners,’’ adds Dr Taneja.

With an incubation period of 45-160 days, this infection accounts for nearly 30 per cent of liver cirrhosis and 40-50 per cent of liver cancer cases in India.

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is transmitted through infected blood and semen/other body fluids –mode of transmission and treatment options being almost similar to HBV (incubation period: 14-180 days). This disease if not detected and arrested in time, can make a critical case.

Hepatitis B and C usually leads to chronic liver condition and result in irreversible liver damage

Dr Devendra Taneja

Hepatitis A and E are water-borne diseases that are less severe in nature, while the remaining strains are blood-borne and can be fatal if not detected or treated in time.

Hepatitis D virus (HDV) – The mode of transmission for this virus is more or less similar to that of HBV except that the vertical transmission from mother-to-child is rather rare. Although, no effective anti-viral treatment is available for HDV, Hepatitis B vaccine provides protection against this infection too.

Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is a small virus which is mostly transmitted via contaminated water or food (incubation period: 2-10 weeks). Globally, about 20 million people are infected with HEV which is responsible for nearly 56,600 deaths/year, though its prevalence is highest in South East Asia.

Pregnant women infected with hepatitis E (particularly in the 2nd/3rd trimester), are at an increased risk of acute liver failure, foetal loss and mortality.

Stay Safe

Hepatitis B and C are transmitted through unsafe sexual practices, use of an infected syringe, mother-to-child, and infected blood transfusion, among others.

This Article was first published in the print version of SUBURB July 2019 issue.

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