Liver Diseases: How to Prevent Viral Hepatitis Epidemic

Viral Hepatitis is the liver inflammation caused by one of the five hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. Dr Bobby John, Executive Director at Global Health Advocates (GHA) explains that, while all of these viruses cause liver disease, they vary significantly in terms of epidemiology, natural history, prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Dr Bobby John points out ways we can prevent hepatitis.

Every year, about 4 million people or more contract HCV.[1] Over time, more than three quarters of infected individuals will develop chronic infection.[2] Today, an estimated 170 million people worldwide are living with chronic infection, which left untreated has significant public health consequences.[3]

In most countries, viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver transplants, where such end-stage treatments are expensive and hence have limited treatment access. Chronic viral hepatitis also results in loss of productivity.

Who is prone to develop hepatitis?

Some groups are at more risk of contracting viral hepatitis than others. In communities where food and sanitation services are not optimal, hepatitis A and E tend to be more common. New hepatitis B and C infections are seen more often in recipients of organs, blood, and tissue, along with persons working or receiving care in health settings, and in vulnerable groups.

Viral Hepatitis Prevention:

Affordable measures, such as vaccination, safe blood supply, safe injections, and safe food, can reduce the transmission of viral hepatitis infections. Most of these measures not only reduce the transmission of viral hepatitis but also have spill over effects on the prevention of other infectious diseases. Furthermore, current therapies for hepatitis B and C give health care providers effective tools to combat the disease.

The best way to prevent Hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated. For adults, the Hepatitis B vaccine is given as a series of 3 shots over a period of 6 months. The entire series is needed for long-term protection. Booster doses are not currently recommended. Children need to be immunized along with the regular schedule of immunisation, currently along with the DPT vaccines at 6, 10 and 14 weeks post birth. In addition, it is imperative that all newborn children are given a single dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine at birth.

Hepatitis C is curable. In many instances, hepatitis C can be treated and cured using anti-viral medicines, but the disease remains under-treated worldwide for a lack of awareness about the disease and its treatment, coupled with the fact that it has no visible symptoms in its early stages.

Viral Hepatitis could be tackled with a co-ordinated mix of prevention, treatment and awareness programmes.

Reference:

[1] Mohd HK, et al. Global epidemiology of hepatitis C virus infection: new estimates of age-specific antibody to HCV seroprevalence. Hepatology, 2013, 57:1333–1342.
[2] CDC. Hepatitis C Information for Health Professionals. May 2013.
Accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HCV/index.htm on September 12, 2013.
[3] Mohd HK, et al. Hepatology. 2013.

 

The article was published on healthmeup.com on February 26th, 2014. 

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