World Hepatitis Day, observed on July 28 every year, aims to raise awareness among people about this serious infection, its consequences and the ways and means to prevent the spread of hepatitis and fatal complications.
Viral Hepatitis is a global disease, a major public health challenge and large numbers of studies are available about the prevalence of various types of Hepatitis. Approximately 1.40 million fatalities worldwide occur every year due to Hepatitis and it is the second most leading cause of infection-related deaths after tuberculosis.
The liver is a vital organ that processes nutrients, filters the blood, and fights infections. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its function get affected.
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver mostly caused by viruses but other infections, toxins, alcohol, drugs, and autoimmune diseases can also cause this disease. The viruses of different kinds, and therefore, different type of Hepatitis has been detected named as A, B, C, D and E based on the sequence of their discovery.
Hepatitis can manifest as acute or chronic illness. Generally speaking, Hepatitis is acute (early stage) if it resolves within 6 months and chronic (long-term type) if it lasts longer than 6 months. Hepatitis B, C and D are long time illnesses and are referred to as chronic hepatitis. Acute hepatitis has the ability to resolve on its own but chronic hepatitis may remain unrecognized and silent till a large proportion of liver cells are destroyed resulting in liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and/or liver failure.
Dr. Ahmad, Senior Consultant, Minimal Invasive Laparoscopic & Endoscopic Gastrosurgery, Medeor Hospital said, “Although each type of viral hepatitis is caused by a different virus and is spread in different ways, they all affect the liver and can cause serious health problems. Given below are the common root of transmission for Hepatitis B and C:
• Blood transfusions
• Mother to infant during childbirth (very common in hepatitis B; less common in hepatitis C)
• Needle stick injury
• Sharing straws, razors, toothbrushes or other household items
• Medical or dental interventions without adequate sterilisation of equipment
• In the case of hepatitis B, infection can also occur through having unprotected sex with an infected person.
Chronic hepatitis may not have the symptoms in the beginning as it does not occur until the damage affects the liver function; however sign and symptoms of acute hepatitis appear quickly. They include:
• Flu-like symptoms
• Abdominal pain
• Loss of appetite
• Unexplained weight loss
• Yellow skin and eyes, which may be signs of jaundice
If you think you could have been at risk or have above mentioned symptoms then it is recommended to contact with your Doctor and follow the advice given by him/her. Specific tests are required to detect any illness. Do not assume that you would have been tested in a routine health check up.
Dr. Nidhi Paliwal, Consultant Pathologist & Lab Incharge, Medeor Hospital, Qutab, New Delhi, said, “Testing and diagnosis is the gateway for access to both treatment and prevention services for Hepatitis. Viral Hepatitis can be quickly diagnosed with simple serological blood tests that are easily available, economical and easy to perform to diagnose and identify the type of hepatitis. If the results indicate the presence of hepatitis antibodies in the bloodstream, then blood sample is tested further to evaluate genotype of virus and the quantification of infection (viral load) by various molecular techniques like PCR.”
She further added “It also helps in monitoring the treatment and disease progression from acute to chronic disease. Blood test, Imaging studies and liver biopsy may be needed to determine the extent of liver cell damage. Correct diagnosis helps in timely management and prevention from developing chronic disease and risk of liver cancer.”
Effective and safe vaccines that can prevent hepatitis A and B are available and it is recommended by the WHO that the hepatitis B vaccine should be given to all new-born as this can not only prevent infection from mother but also infection later in life. Hep B vaccination is the only vaccine that helps in prevention of liver cancer .More than one billion doses of the hepatitis B vaccine have been used since the early 1980s and it has been shown to be effective in approximately 95% of cases. Such vaccine provides very long term often lifelong immunity. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C, However effective medication has helped in curing the dreaded disease.
“Covid-19 infection does cause liver inflammation, increases liver enzymes and can also cause liver dysfunction, so in current scenario the patients with chronic hepatitis B or C without cirrhosis should follow standard precautions for coronavirus infection. Individuals, living with cirrhosis will be at higher risk of liver disease progression and decompensation. Additional precautions, such as frequent hand washes and regular monitoring of liver enzymes is required for such patients. Adoption of Universal precautions of avoiding unscreened blood transfusions, syringe/needle sharing /unprotected sexual contacts help in reducing the transmission of hepatitis B & C.” Dr Ahmad added.
He further said, “Protecting the health of your liver is most important. To avoid liver disease we should eat a balanced diet and avoid saturated fat, sugar and refined carbohydrates (such as white rice/bread and regular pasta). Physical activity indoor/outdoor should be encouraged during this time as well! Practice social distancing for outdoor activities, and get creative for indoor workouts. Last but not least, don’t share personal hygiene items like razors, toothbrushes and nail clippers etc. as they can carry microscopic levels of blood or other body fluids that may be contaminated with the viruses.”