World Hepatitis Day: 95% People Don’t Know They Have the Disease
(28 July is observed as the World Hepatitis Day. Globally 1.4 million people die each year from hepatitis and this day serves as a reminder to governments and policy makers to know the disease and take action.)
A study by the Indian Society for Clinical Research says that around 12 million people in India are infected with Hepatitis C virus (HCV), the second-highest globally. There has been an eight percent rise in the number of HCV cases among pregnant women in the last one decade.
One lakh Indians lose the battle against a very curable disease every year. Unlike tuberculosis and HIV, the government has still not formed a national policy to eradicate the disease which infects 40 to 60 million Indians currently.
Before you point fingers at the government, learn more about Hepatitis, its cause and prevention here:
Find Out If You Have Hepatitis - It Could Save Your Life
Who is At Risk?
The Centers for Disease and Prevention estimates that people born between 1945 to 1965 are five times more likely to contract the hepatitis virus than others. The mean age for hepatitis is 55 years. It takes 20 to 30 years for the infection to show and decades can pass without any noticeable symptoms.
During that time, the infected person can unknowingly pass the infection to others through sexual contact, blood donation or sharing a razor, needle, toothbrush etc.
Hepatitis C causes liver disease (almost always), that in turn can trigger liver cancer or cirrhosis — precisely why it is imperative for people in their 40s and 50s to get a one time simple test to find out their status.
Vaccination Is the Key
The irony of the hepatitis epidemic is that there is an affordable, effective vaccine available for two common strains of hepatitis — A and B. Both these vaccines are covered under the Union Health Ministry’s immunisation programme, yet a staggering 40 percent infants are not vaccinated in India. Given that there is no national policy, limited awareness and symptoms don’t set in immediately; it’s a ticking time bomb.
But screening is as important as vaccination. People who underwent transplants or blood transfusions in the 90s or earlier, must get themselves tested for hepatitis because there was no screening of the virus in blood before that.
Hepatitis is three times more infectious than HIV and yet awareness about it is so low that by the time hepatitis is detected, liver damage becomes cirrhosis or cancer and impossible to treat.
A significant number of them will develop cirrhosis or liver cancer. Approximately 3,99,000 people die each year from hepatitis C, mostly from cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma.
Often known as the ‘silent disease’, sometimes the symptoms don’t appear for decades. This World Hepatitis Day, know the risk factors, learn the symptoms and seek immediate help if you think you could be infected.