Free Press Journal

Hepatitis B, C pose huge health challenge in India



New Delhi: Despite the cost of drugs coming down and dramatic advances in the treatment of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, getting rid of both types of the disease remains a huge challenge primarily due to lack of awareness and unsafe injection practices, experts have rued.

Hepatitis B is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV and Hepatitis C is 10 times more infectious than the virus that can cause AIDS. Yet, while people are by and large aware of HIV, there is little awareness about Hepatitis, health experts have lamented.

“In India, Hepatitis is a matter of concern because three to six 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,” Siddharth Srivastava, Associate Professor, GB Pant Hospital here told IANS.

Hepatitis B and C are silent killers. They live in the body for decades, without showing any symptoms. When symptoms finally appear, they signal that the liver itself has been affected, making treatment difficult.

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

“A complete evaluation needs to be done after Hepatitis is detected which would tell us the extent of liver damage and level of viral replication. This would mean a number of tests like viral load (PCR), ultrasound, Fibro scan, and at time endoscopy need to be performed,” said Yogesh Batra, Director, Gastroenterology and Hepatology, BLK Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi.

There are five types of Hepatitis named A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis A and E are water borne and spreads through contaminated water or food, often produce more dramatic symptoms such as jaundice, but last for short durations.

Hepatitis B, C and D are blood borne. Hepatitis D causes infection only along with Hepatitis B. The concern is usually for Hepatitis B which can spread unknowingly from an infected mother to a newborn.

“Testing for Hepatitis B (HBsAg) is now mandatory during pregnancy. If a mother tests positive, infection to the coming newborn can be prevented by immediate vaccination (active and passive) to the newborn within 12 hours. Some mothers may also require treatment with oral medications during pregnancy to reduce the viral load and hence risk of passing the infection down,” Gourdas Choudhuri, Director, Gastroenterology and Hepatobiliary Sciences, Fortis Hospital, Gurgaon, said.

The irony is that Hepatitis B has a vaccine, but no cure, while Hepatitis C has no vaccine, but does have a cure. Hepatitis C is also fairly common, with around one per cent of the population harbouring the virus without knowing it. Blood test is the only way to detect it.

The treatment for Hepatitis C is now simple and affordable with oral tablets clearing the infection in three to six months.
(July 28 is World Hepatitis Day)