Unsafe injections biggest carrier of Hepatitis in India

There is no vaccination for Hepatitis C

It was only a tiny prick during clearing up of hundreds of syringe needles which were dumped after usage at a diabetic camp in a village close to Delhi. The phlebotomist Jeevan Singh wiped off the drop of blood with dry cotton and moved on.

Barely a month had passed before he began feeling great fatigue and abdominal cramps, which were soon followed by yellowish eyes. A battery of tests revealed that he was infected with reactive Hepatitis B antigen. Most importantly, he had never been vaccinated for Hepatitis B.

According to INCLEN study published in World Health Organisation’s SEARO bulletin recently, every Indian is given 2.9 injections on an average and a total of three billion injections are administered every year in India. Out of these, 1.89 billion were unsafe.

A whopping 60 per cent of Hepatitis B and C cases arise due to unsafe injections.
“Because of the misconception that injections are more effective, people in India opt for them even for common ailments such as fever and cough,” said Dr Anil Arora of Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

“Though auto-disabled syringes are now provided in the hospitals, many quacks in urban and mainly rural areas still use the same needles again and again,” he added.

“A person infected with Hepatitis carries it for life. The virus can remain dormant for years and can at times take as many as 20 years to manifest, but it is bound to strike the patient,” said Dr Ashish Bhanot, gastroenterologist at Nova Surgical Hospital.

In fact, the Hepatitis virus is over 50 times more infectious than HIV and can survive outside the body for seven days. “Even sharing of razors or tooth brushes with an infected person can spread the disease,” added Dr Bhanot.

Deadly precedents

As recently as last year, more than 1,600 cases of Hepatitis C were reported from Ratia town of Haryana, just 150 kms from Delhi, an outbreak blamed on re-use of syringes and needles by doctors. A similar outbreak of hepatitis B in northern Gujarat in 2009 had cost over 50 lives.

“There is no vaccination for Hepatitis C, but Hepatitis B vaccination is 100 per cent safe, effective, cheap and without any side-effects. Yet, 70 per cent of Indians are not vaccinated against this virus,” said Dr Arora.

His research which is yet to be published discovered that 40 per cent of liver cancer patients got cancer due to Hepatitis B and 20 per cent due to Hepatitis C.

The national figure for Hepatitis B cases in India is 1.1 million with 2,40,000 annual deaths due to complications associated with it. In the case of Hepatitis C, the corresponding figures are 4,00,000 and 96,000.

The situation is no better in Delhi with the state health ministry conceding in 2010 that 90 per cent Delhiites were not vaccinated against hepatitis B. Dr Arora estimates that two per cent of Delhiites suffer from Hepatitis C and 1.5 per cent from Hepatitis B.

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