Dr. Gourdas Choudhuri:
If Shakespeare was alive today, the theme of one of his modern-day dramas could well be the tragic tale of Hepatitis.
The tragedy however is not that 40 million Indians harbour the virus, and thousands die of it every year, but the fact that very effective prevention methods and treatments are available for this illness. If, and only if, people knew and acted on time!! The theme for World Hepatitis Day has therefore been appropriately kept as “It is closer than you think”.
Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are the names of 2 of the 5 viruses that attack the liver. Why they are usually under the spotlight is because of their propensity to lodge in the liver and nibble away at its cells for years after enetring the body, often finally damaging it completely. This advanced stage is called Liver Cirrhosis. Also both these viruses are notorious in causing Liver Cancer, a deadly disease that usually defies tretament.
In contrast Hepatitis A and E, the viruses that spread through contaminated water or food, often cause a transient illness of “Acute Hepatitis” that abates in 4 to 6 weeks, do not require specific drugs,and never lead on to cirrhosis or cancer.
Ironically, Hepatitis B is a easily preventable disease. The Hepatitis B vaccine, available since 1982, is one of the safest and most effective vaccines ever produced. More than 150 countries have used it in their immunization schedules since the late 80’s and 90’s to protect their children and citizen. The disease has virtually disappeared from America, Europe and Japan where it is diagnosed only in immigrants and travellers. It is being ushered out in more than 100 other countires with the use of mass vaccination. All it requires is 3 injections of the vaccine, the 2nd after one and the third after 5 months,
Why are we lagging behind? To start with, India was one of the late starters to include Hepatitis B vaccination in its immunization programme. The second hurdle seems to be the poor level of awareness among people. Many educated people are still blissfully unaware. Some, ofcourse, knowor have heard, but do not take heed!
World Hepatitis Day is today on July 28 to create this much needed awareness that could help individuals take small steps to protect themselves and their loved ones. This day coincides with the birthday of Prof Blumberg, who won the Nobel Prize in 1976 for discovering the Hepatitis B virus. Documentary movies in schools, messages aired on radio, rallies by school children, ads in newspapers and health camps in several hospitals in the city, will be some of the ways we hope to reach out to you, and urge you to get protected.
It could be a good day to take the 1st shot of the Hepatitis B vaccine and gift one to each member of your family for a life-time of protection from this disease. Would you?[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author:
Dr. Gourdas Choudhuri is theÂ Vice-Chairman, Institute of Digestive and Hepato-biliary Sciences,Â Medanta – The Medicity. He has also been theÂ past President of the Indian Society of Gastroenterology, andÂ Former Professor and Head, Department of Gastroenterology
Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow, India.[/box]