Hepatitis, one of the top killers: Expert

In the last three decades, there are 400 lakh deaths making hepatitis the top killer

Hyderabad: Today is World Hepatitis Day. With the theme of ‘Hepatitis Can’t Wait’, highlighting the urgency of efforts needed to eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030, the world observes the day even as one person is dying every 30 seconds from a hepatitis related illness, even in the current Covid-19 crisis.

There are 400 million people suffering from chronic viral hepatitis worldwide and over the last 30 years it has caused 1.4 million deaths every year. In the last three decades, there are 400 lakh deaths making hepatitis the top killer. In India, 40 million people suffer from hepatitis B and its prevalence is three to four percent among the population.

Dr Tom Cherian, founder of South Asian Liver Institute in Hyderabad, talks about hepatitis on World Hepatitis Day and the current status in the country.

What is the connection between Covid and hepatitis?

Viruses are non-living and cannot do anything on their own. Despite its non-living status, once within a host cell, it is very active inducing cell replication and assembles to form many viruses. Covid is transmissible through air, breath and hand contact which is much easier while hepatitis B and C are transmitted through body fluids. In Long Covid-19, hepatitis has become a cause of concern as the disease emerges in undiagnosed cases.

How has hepatitis emerged as a disease of concern?

While hepatitis virus is a non-living entity, it has emerged as a top killer along with HIV, malaria and TB. This incredible bio-chemical protein ball was not even seen by humans until the advent of electron microscope. Being so small - much smaller than bacteria - it is not visible in a simple microscope. Its transmission through blood, water and other body fluids has been identified and it is treatable.

Is hepatitis and cancer linked?

Unless treated properly, inflammation from chronic hepatitis from B and C can lead to cell damage and eventually liver cancer. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2010 that a type of liver cancer called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) was on the rise and that chronic hepatitis B and C infections accounted for over 75 percent of cases in the world.

Does hepatitis transmit from mother to child?

The commonest route of transmission of hepatitis B in the world is unbelievably mother to child during childbirth. So, every pregnant woman should get tested for hepatitis viruses. Infants born to mothers with hepatitis B can be vaccinated right away and receive antibodies to help fight the infection.

Hepatitis B and C are heard of. Are there other types too?

Ever heard of hepatitis D? Well, it does exist. People who already have chronic hepatitis B are at risk for becoming infected with a second virus, hepatitis D, also called delta hepatitis. That can be even more difficult to treat as delta does not respond well to the available medications. The best way to protect yourself is to get the hepatitis B vaccine which prevents hepatitis B and then prevents D. In the past, treatment for hepatitis C was complex, uncertain and expensive, but now with DAAs (Direct acting antiviral), the treatment is simple, effective and safe. As far as hepatitis B is concerned, there has been an effective vaccine for the last 20 years, and we must use it. All of us should take it, if we have not been given it, in childhood. Hepatitis A and E are spread by contamination of food and water and if we stick to clean food and water, it is easy to avoid.

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