Hepatitis...It`s closer than you think

Deeksha Ahuja

World Hepatitis Day (WHD) is an annual event that grants special focus on patient groups and people living with Hepatitis B and C. WHD aims at raising global awareness on the two diseases besides encouraging their prevention, diagnosis and treatment. This year, the theme of World Hepatitis Day is - It`s closer than you think. On 28 July 2012, every year the world comes together to mark World Hepatitis Day and raise awareness about the viral disease.

The day was first launched in 2007 by The World Hepatitis Alliance. It was officially recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 2010 following the World Health Assembly, and now it is one of only four diseases related official days. Since its launch, thousands of events have taken place around the world, generating massive public and media interest.

The World Hepatitis Day aims to focus on specific actions such as:

• Strengthening prevention, screening and control of viral hepatitis and its related diseases.
• Increasing hepatitis B vaccine coverage and integration into national immunization programmes, and
• Coordinating a global response to hepatitis to increase access to treatment.

Hepatitis simply means swelling of the liver that persists longer than six months. Notably, one of the most common causes of chronic hepatitis are viral infection, alcohol, drugs, chemicals, fatty liver and autoimmune disease but Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections account for around 75 percent of chronic Hepatitis worldwide. According to World Hepatitis Alliance, currently, around 500 million people are currently infected with chronic Hepatitis B or C and 1 in 3 people have been exposed to one or both viruses.

However, the treatment of chronic Hepatitis is variable, depending on the underlying cause and other factors related to an individual.

Types of Hepatitis

Hepatitis A is caused by eating food and drinking water infected with a virus called HAV. It can also be caused by anal-oral contact during sex. The disease can cause swelling and inflammation in the liver; however, it doesn`t lead to chronic disease.

Hepatitis B is caused by the virus HBV which is spread by contact with an infected person`s blood, semen, or other body fluid. Hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Hepatitis B can be a serious infection that can cause liver damage, which may result in cancer.

Hepatitis C is caused by the virus HCV. It also spreads through contact from an infected person`s blood, semen, or body fluid. Like hepatitis B, hepatitis C causes swelling of the liver and can cause liver damage that can lead to cancer.

Hepatitis D is caused by the virus HDV. One can only get Hepatitis D if already infected with Hepatitis B. It is spread through contact with infected blood, and unprotected sex (not using a condom) with a person infected with HDV.

Hepatitis E is caused by the virus HEV. The virus is usually found in drinking water. It causes swelling of the liver, but no long-term damage. It can also be spread through oral-anal contact.

Hepatitis in India

India has around 40 million patients affected with Hepatitis B; approximately 400-500 million people worldwide have either Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C which contribute to a very high grade of disease. HEV infection is responsible for most of the epidemics of viral Hepatitis in India. Hepatitis B accounts for 15-30 percent of the cases of the acute hepatitis and 70 percent cases of chronic Hepatitis while HCV infection cases are infrequent.

Hepatitis D is responsible for less than 10 percent of the patients of acute and chronic HBV infection. The HBV carrier rate is approximately 4 percent. The majority of severe sequel occurs in patients who are chronically infected with HBV; a significant proportion develops liver cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma. Since Hepatitis E is uncontrolled in India, the need of the hour is to adopt preventive strategies that could aim at providing clean drinking water, proper sewage disposal and health education

In order to prevent Hepatitis in India, there is a need to collect data at the national, state, and direct level so as to evaluate and supervise the prevention policies. The existing viral Hepatitis analyzing systems are not enough to monitor chronic infections and to measure the burden of morbidity and mortality due to viral hepatitis. The epidemiology of viral hepatitis is shifting and presents new prevention challenges. A better public health response will be required involving governmental, academic and community-based organizations combined with the right efforts and can help in prevention of viral Hepatitis infection.

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