Be in the clear

Be in the clear


Be in the clear

Most people know of the dangers that HIV poses, thanks to huge public health awareness campaigns.

A few may also know about hepatitis B, an infection caused by virus transmitted through blood and other body fluids that attacks the liver, much like HIV. However, few know of hepatitis C. The problem is that while the B virus (along with hepatitis A) has a vaccine, the C virus doesn’t. Hepatitis C is also 10 times more infectious than HIV.

Worse, hepatitis C is asymptomatic, which means it does not exhibit any obvious symptoms of sickness in its initial stages. If it does, it can be easily diagnosed with a blood test and treated. Exhaustion, jaundice, abdominal pain and loss of appetite are all symptoms of this infection, similar to other viral infections.

Often, it can manifest years later, when the virus has had an effect on the liver. Symptoms at this stage are more serious, such as blood vomit and black stool. About 80% who have hepatitis C may not exhibit any symptom for years and 50-70% of adults who get this infection, will get chronic hepatitis C, which occurs over a long period.

Of these, 55-85% develop liver cirrhosis (scarring). Another three to five per cent may get liver cancer or their livers may fail unless they get a liver transplant.

Approximately five lakh people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver diseases. In India, one per cent of the population has hepatitis C, and while this may not seem significant, considering our population and the fact that there may be pockets with high prevalence, it is a big deal.

What can you do

First, get screened because you could have caught it through the blood from just about anywhere. Tattoos, manicures, sharing razors even with a partner and rough sex can all be causes for this infection. Just one basic screening, which is a blood test, is what is needed.

Second, if you’re in the clear, remember, prevention is better than cure. Be vigilant no matter where you are. It is your right to ask the hospital to show you documents related to blood screening from the blood bank. Similarly, always opt for disposable needles, no matter what.

Third, if you are not in the clear, then know that today, hepatitis C virus has a reliable, easy, reasonably inexpensive cure compared to even a year ago, and cure rates can be 100% if the virus is caught early and it hasn’t damaged the liver. Also, the entire family should get tested if someone is detected with the virus.

Fourth, let us begin to talk about hepatitis C. It’s preventable, it’s curable — all we need to do is spread awareness.

(The author is senior consultant gastroenterologist, Fortis Escorts Liver & Digestive
Diseases Institute, New Delhi)