Today, the world is celebrating the World Hepatitis Day, an event started by the World Health Organisation (WHO), to increase awareness about the disease around the globe.
Globally, 325 million people were living with chronic hepatitis infection in 2015. 1.34 million people died of the disease that year. As per WHO reports, India is one among the 28 countries accounting for 70% of the global burden of chronic hepatitis. A report in 2016 stated that 52 million people are infected with chronic hepatitis in the country.
This creates a huge burden of social and economic problems for the families which have people suffering from hepatitis. Surprisingly, around 95% of infected people don’t even know that they are suffering from it, mainly because of its asymptomatic nature.
This is an important reason for the need to spread awareness about the disease among Indians. The well-known phrase ‘prevention is better than cure’, should make one understand that awareness is indeed the best prevention you can start with – and it stands true in the case of hepatitis as well!
Hepatitis is a liver disease. So, a better understanding of functions of the liver will help us to know about the disease and its effects.
Liver is the largest internal organ is also one of the most significant organs of our body. It works continuously for the smooth functioning of our body. Liver acts as a vacuum cleaner in cleaning our blood. It acts as a storehouse of vitamins and minerals, and makes sure that these are available in the right amounts in our body.
It also serves as a body-builder, because it regulates glucose and amino acids for our body’s growth. It also secretes bile, a juice vital for our digestive processes. Liver also contributes in the production of various hormones in our body.
Evidently, a disease of the liver can destroy these numerous functions and thereby create a life-threatening problem.
Hepatitis is an inflammatory condition of the liver. In most cases, viruses cause this disease. However, the disease may also caused by other infections, autoimmune diseases and the use of toxic substances like alcohol or drugs.
The five main types of hepatitis viruses are – A, B, C, D and E. For each type of virally-transmitted hepatitis, a different virus is responsible.
Hepatitis A and hepatitis E are commonly caused by consuming contaminated food or water.
Hepatitis B, hepatitis C and hepatitis D often occur as a result of parenteral contact with infected body fluids.
The common modes of transmission of these viruses include – receipt of contaminated blood or blood products and invasive medical procedures using contaminated equipment. In the case of hepatitis B, the disease can be transmitted from a mother to her baby at birth, from a family member to a child, and through sexual contact as well.
In many cases, the disease may be asymptomatic. However, some people do suffer from acute illness with fever, malaise, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark-coloured urine and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes).
Hepatitis A: There is no specific treatment. The recovery is slow, and may take anywhere between several weeks to several months. Generally, therapy is given for comfort and to maintain adequate nutritional balance. This can even include replacing the fluids lost due to vomiting and diarrhoea.
Hepatitis B: There is no specific treatment for acute hepatitis B. For chronic hepatitis B, patients are given drugs including oral antiviral agents. This treatment is aimed at slowing down cirrhosis, and thereby stopping liver failure and reducing the chances of contracting liver cancer.
Sometimes, the patient is cured in six months. Sometimes, it even takes an year. However, in most cases, the treatment cannot permanently cure the disease and the patients need to continue with the treatment for the rest of their days.
Hepatitis C: The treatment of hepatitis C is based on therapy with interferon and ribavirin. This requires weekly injections for 48 weeks. This treatment can cured approximately half of the infected patients. But, it can also lead to life-threatening adverse drug reactions.
Recently, scientific advances have led to development of very effective new antiviral drugs. These can cure a majority of the patients after a relatively shorter period (usually 12 weeks) of treatment. However, at present, these therapies are still expensive.
Hepatitis D: There are no specific treatments for acute or chronic hepatitis D.
Sometimes large doses of a medication called interferon is given (for up to 12 months) to stop the virus from spreading, which may lead to a recurrence of the disease.
However, even after treatment, people with hepatitis D can still test positive for the virus. For this, the person must take preventive measures.
Hepatitis E: The disease is self-limiting. Hospitalisation is generally not required, except in severe cases. However, hospitalisation may be necessary if a pregnant woman happens to be infected.
As said previously, prevention is way better than cure in the case of a disease like hepatitis.
Hepatitis A and hepatitis E: Mostly, people in areas with poor sanitation are infected with the hepatitis A virus (HAV) and the hepatitis E virus (HEV).
So, a simple solution here is to improve our living conditions. Provision of clean water and hygienic food can play a key role in prevention.
Moreover, safe and effective vaccines are available which can stop HAV. On the other hand, even though there are vaccines to combat HEV infections, these are not readily available.
Hepatitis B and hepatitis C: The hepatitis B virus (HBV) and the hepatitis C virus (HCV) are spread through contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person.
To prevent this, avoid sharing personal items like razors, toothbrushes, drug needles or other drug equipment (like straws for snorting drugs). Safe sex with the partner concerned must always be ensured.
Safe and effective vaccines are available to prevent HBV infections. However, there is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C.
Hepatitis D: Hepatitis D virus (HDV) infections occur only in those who are infected by HBV. Consequently, hepatitis B vaccines provide protection from HDV infections as well.
After knowing about the disease, its causes, symptoms, treatments and preventive measures, we need to act on it. Our government is playing an important role towards the elimination of hepatitis. As it is, administering hepatitis vaccines to a child during the time of immunisation is already a necessary step. The government has also tried to educate people about the importance of cleanliness and proper sanitation facilities. Its schemes and policies are also helping people move in the right direction.
People also have a great responsibility in eliminating hepatitis. To start with, they can take preventive measures. In case they are infected, they should take proper help from the doctors, and complete their treatment. They can also spread awareness about the disease among the people in their circles.
The doctors also have a key role to play in this process. They are the most experienced people who have a detailed knowledge of the disease. Therefore, it is their duty to regularly reach out to people to make them aware of the disease.
Only with the combined efforts of the people, the doctors and the government can hepatitis be truly eliminated from India!
Image used for representative purposes only.