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Hepatitis B and C pose huge challenges on the domestic health frontier

On the occasion of World Hepatitis Day observed globally on July 28, the Government of India, alongwith other stake-holders in the clinical supply-chain, need to review prevailing measures in preventing the spread of Hepatitis B and C. They are silent killers and present a huge challenge to the Indian medical fraternity. While 2-7% of the Indian population is infected with Hepatitis B, around 1-4 % of the population is afflicted with Hepatitis C with a huge chunk of the population in northern Indian states like Punjab exposed to large-scale infection.

“In India, adults, especially young adults, are largely at threat of contracting Hepatitis B and C. All pregnant ladies should get themselves checked for Hepatitis B in the early stages of pregnancy. If in the 7th month, viral content is very high, treatment should be started immediately, “said Dr. Ajay Choksi, Gastroenterologist, Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital (NSSH).

If the mother is infected, passive and active immunization should be administered to the infant within 24 hours of birth. Even if the mother is not infected, all infants should be administered with Hepatitis B vaccine in the first year of life. In 95% cases, children who are administered the vaccine are immune to Hepatitis B infection and are protected against the virus. Children who have not been administered the vaccine carry a higher risk of contracting the virus. There is no known antiserum or immunization vaccine for Hepatitis C though research efforts are underway around the world to find an effective prevention.

Blood transfusion is an important causative factor for Hepatitis B and C. Hepatitis B is also caused through exchange of body fluids especially during unprotected sexual intercourse.  Use of infected needles, razors and syringes, exposure to open wounds and contaminated blood, tattooing, ear-piercing are also largely responsible for spreading Hepatitis B and C. In the initial stages of infection, Hepatitis B and C are described as acute. However, if they remain in the body for more than six months, they assume a chronic form and can eventually lead to cirrhosis of liver and ultimately liver cancer.

The following of certain precautions can go a long way in preventing the fast advance of both the Hepatitis variants. Simple physical touch does not result in transmission of hepatitis B and C. However, one should not indulge in intimate relations (unprotected sexual intercourse and kissing) with Hepatitis patients. Sharing of sharp objects, especially those already used by infected people (or even otherwise) should be avoided.

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