Am I Number 12?

Courtesy by:

Approximately one in every 12 people worldwide is living with either chronic Hepatitis B or C

The second annual World Hepatitis Day will be observed on Tuesday, 19 May 2009, as part of an ongoing movement initiated by the World Health Alliance. The ‘Am I Number 12?’ is a campaign launched by the World Health Alliance to highlight the growing incidence of Hepatitis and the magnitude of the disease. Shockingly, approximately one in every 12 people worldwide is living with either chronic Hepatitis B or chronic Hepatitis C. The awareness levels are inexplicably low for a disease that affects more number of people than even HIV or any form of cancer.

World Hepatitis Day aims to raise awareness of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, as well as garner support and create awareness for the disease similar to those of HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. According to a WHO estimate, Hepatitis C kills four times more people than HIV. The long term objective of the World Hepatitis Day Campaign is to deliver improvements in health outcomes for people living with Hepatitis B and C.

“Hepatitis C (or HCV – Hepatitis C virus) is a viral infection that affects as many as 175 million people across the world. Every 15th carrier is an Indian, which results in about 12.5 million sufferers in India alone. It can become life-threatening if it remains undetected for long” says Dr. Satyaprakash, M .S. Ramaiah Hospital. Dr. Satyaprakash will be addressing patients and their relatives and will also be conducting a Hepatitis screening camp.

Worldwide, an estimated 3-4 million people are infected with the virus each year. In India alone, the death rates from Hepatitis C exceed over 100,000 per year.

About Hepatitis:

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that is caused by various viruses. Over time, Hepatitis seriously damages the liver and can eventually lead to hospitalization, liver cancer, and the need for liver transplantation or even death. HCV accounts for one-fourth of all cases of chronic liver disease in India.

There are at least six different strains of the Hepatitis virus, including Hepatitis A, B, and C. Hepatitis B and C are considered the most serious strains and affect the greatest number of people.

There may be no symptoms in the first six months of infection. Nearly 20% of those infected by Hepatitis C clear the virus from their body naturally and experience no long-term effects from the infection. However, for the remaining 80% a chronic or long-term infection can develop. The course of a chronic Hepatitis C infection is extremely varied and unpredictable. Because of the common absence of symptoms, many people are unaware that they have a Hepatitis C infection until sometime after infection.

Another reason so many people with Hepatitis B and C remain undiagnosed is that many of the symptoms are subjective, at least in severity, and easy to attribute to something else. So, for example, depression, fatigue, skin problems, insomnia, pain and digestive disorders could all have other causes. Nine out of 10 people who have Hepatitis B or C don’t know they’ve got it. For these reasons Hepatitis C is often referred to as a silent killer.

Quick Facts on Hepatitis B & C:

1. Of every 100 Indians, 4 are infected with Hepatitis B and one with Hepatitis C (5%). Most are unaware of this. Both are spread by similar methods and affect the liver, can be diagnosed by simple blood tests, and can be treated.

2. HBV and HCV kill ten times more people than HIV every year (WHO estimate). In India alone the death rate from Hepatitis C exceeds over a hundred thousand per year.

3. Every 15th carrier of Hepatitis C is an Indian.

4. Being an asymptomatic disease, many are not even aware of the disease before it’s too late. It can

become life-threatening if it remains undetected for long.

5. Timely treatment CAN help in the complete eradication of HCV.

6. 1 in 5 patients with chronic HCV develop irreversible liver damage (cirrhosis).

7. About 1 in 4 patients with cirrhosis due to HCV progress to liver failure and die.

8. If detected on time, Hepatitis can be treated with medications and cured. Around 4000 patients with Hepatitis B and 230 patients with Hepatitis C have undergone treatment at SGPGIMS till date.

9. Successful treatment can stop progression of the disease to liver failure or liver cancer.

Who is at risk?

· Infected blood transfusions: Most of the patients of Hepatitis C in India have contracted the infection from blood transfusions, often received upto 20 years ago. At that time, tests for Hepatitis C were not easily available, and hence could not have been detected in the blood that was transfused. Patients who have undergone major surgeries requiring multiple blood transfusions are at highest risk.

· Injections or operations using non-disposable re-use needles or equipment accounts for about a third of the cases.

· Patients of thalassemia, or other blood disorders, who require frequent blood transfusions.

· Hepatitis B is often transmitted unknowingly from a “carrier” mother to her offsprings and hence tend to affect other family members. In a sample study at SGPGI, during family screening of 225 patients of Hepatitis B patients, at least one additional family member was found to have the infection.

· People indulging in tattooing or body piercing (unsterilized equipment or while incarcerated).

· Unprotected sex with multiple partners or a history of STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases).

· Occupational exposure to blood or needles.

· Intravenous drug use, especially through sharing of contaminated needles.

Can Hepatitis C be prevented?

Hepatitis B can be prevented by taking 3 doses of a HBV vaccine. Currently, there is no vaccine for HCV. The best way to prevent HCV is to avoid high-risk activities.

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