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Hepatitis: A disease that's deadlier than HIV

We all know enough about HIV yet it remains one of the most dreaded diseases across the globe; yet another HIV-like disease, which is a time bomb waiting to explode goes unnoticed by many. Introducing Hepatitis, a viral infection that affects the liver and is a leading cause of death and disability across the world. The disease is backed by some startling facts. A recent study published in The Lancet journal stated that viral hepatitis deaths increased by 63 per cent in the last 23 years.

For the uninitiated, there are five different types of viral hepatitis, namely A, B, C, D and E. All of them are contagious and some are life threatening too. Hepatitis A and E are waterborne; Hepatitis B, C and D are transmitted by bodily fluids (via syringes, needles, injections, toothbrush, razors). Furthermore, all of them are contagious and some are life threatening too.

Dr. Ajay P Choksi, Consultant and Head, Dept. of Gastroenterology & Hepatology at Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai explains, "Hepatitis A and E are generally self limiting and don't normally last beyond six months. However, they can be severe, incapacitating and fatal during this period. Hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HBC), on the other hand, can give rise to acute illnesses like A (HBA) and E (HBE) but can also cause chronic liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis of liver or even cancer of liver. Hepatitis D (HBD) infection occurs only if a person has Hepatitis B."

Shockingly, there have been a surge in deaths in the past 20 years. "Despite alarming statistics, we as a country have not undertaken enough clinical research. Of the five, there is no cure for three of them. Hepatitis C alone affects estimated 12 million people in India, most of whom don't even know they are carriers. The combined burden of viral hepatitis is huge in India. We need treatment regimens that are short and therapies that are effective, affordable and well-tolerated," shares Suneela Thatte, President, Indian Society of Clinical Research (ISCR).

World Health Organisation has stated that a shocking 95 per cent of people infected with Hepatitis B or C do not even know they are infected and often live without symptoms for a long time. This year alone, 10 to 30 million people will be infected with HBV. Dr Harshwardhan Dongre, K J Somaiya Hospital warns, "Currently there is no treatment for acute Hepatitis B infection. Progression to chronic disease depends on a host of factors, so preventing acute infection is the only preventive measure available." Dr. PM Bhujang - President, Association of Hospitals adds, "Acute infection may present as fever, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting fever, abdominal pain, jaundice and dark urine. Chronic hepatitis may present with early and late symptoms of liver dysfunction and failure."

Unlike Hepatitis B, C and D, Hepatitis A and E do not damage the liver in the long term. "Once infected or vaccinated, we do not get the infection again," adds Dr Vasudevan K R, senior consultant, surgical gastroenterology and liver transplantation department, Jaypee Hospital, Noida.

Prevention plan

Most of the viral hepatitis have vaccinations and so the first plan should be to get yourself duly immunized against them. Follow the below guidelines:

- Avoid sharing sharp objects for example, needles, razor and toothbrush.

- Avoid unprotected sex.

- Three dosages of hepatitis B vaccine given at intervals of 0-1-6 months would give immunity against Hepatitis B at more than 95% probability.

- All infants should be immunised against hepatitis B in 1st year of life.

- All pregnant ladies should be screened for hepatitis B & C and if found positive, adequate measures should be taken to prevent transmission.

- No open wound should be contacted without gloves.

Facts and myths
Dr. Neeraj Saraf, Associate Director - Hepatology, Medanta - The Medicity lays busts some common myths

Myths and facts of Hepatitis B

Myths: People infected with viral hepatitis B never recover. Facts: Ninety percent of infected adults with acute hepatitis B can recover without any problems, but most infected babies and children eventually develop chronic hepatitis B infection, where recovery is not possible. New antiviral treatments may reduce the incidence of complications by suppressing the virus and preventing progression of the disease.

Myths: Viral Hepatitis B cannot be prevented. Facts: The Viral Hepatitis B vaccine is absolutely safe and extremely effective. It only takes 3 shots to protect against viral hepatitis B.

Myths and facts of Hepatitis C

Myths: You've been vaccinated for Hepatitis CFacts: No vaccine currently exists for hepatitis C therefore you cannot be vaccinated for hepatitis C.

Myth: It is not curable Facts: Hepatitis C is almost 100 per cent curable with the help of the excellent drugs that are available

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