WHAT IS HEPATITIS AND WHY IS IT A PROBLEM
Hepatitis is the world’s 7th leading cause of death, killing more people than HIV/AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis
- World Health Organization
WHAT IS HEPATITIS?
In layman terms, Hepatitis is swelling of the liver cells. It is caused by excessive alcohol consumption, viruses (like Hepatitis A, B, C, D, E, etc), few medications (like anti tubercular drugs).
Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are viruses which infect humans for prolonged periods (chronic) and can cause liver diseases including cirrhosis of liver and liver cancer .
HOW IS HEPATITIS SPREAD?
Hepatitis A and E - Spread by contaminated food and water.
Hepatitis B and C - These viruses are transmitted by blood and blood products. Sexual transmission, vertical transmission (mother to child during pregnancy or during birth), unsterilized needle usage, improper sterilization of dental, surgical, endoscopic, and dialysis instruments, reuse of razor blades, etc. appear to be other most common causes of spread of these viruses in the community.
Individuals infected by these viruses do not show any outward symptoms most of the time (asymptomatic).
These viruses cause inflammation of hepatocytes (Liver Cells) for prolonged period (Chronic Hepatitis). When the inflammation is caused by the virus, our body tries to repair the cells by arresting the inflammation. This inflammatory process with intermittent repair over a period of time causes scarring of the liver tissue which decreases its function. This condition of scarring of the liver tissue with decrease in its function is called Cirrhosis of Liver.
Hepatitis Viruses are the second most common cause for Cirrhosis of Liver worldwide. Cirrhosis of Liver is most common precursor for Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma). These viruses can cause liver cancer even before the liver becomes cirrhotic in few cases.
Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent cirrhosis of liver and liver cancer. Any person infected by these viruses are asymptomatic till they progress to a stage of cirrhosis. Hence each and every individual should be screened for these viruses.
- Hepatitis C is the only chronic viral infection which can be cured. With the available oral antivirals now, side effects of treatment are very less and the treatment duration is finite.
- Hepatitis B virus is a treatable virus. Treatment should be done with antivirals if there is evidence of active inflammation in the liver cells. Inactive Hepatitis B carriers do not require treatment, but need to be followed up regularly as this virus can become active and cause inflammation to the liver cells at any time later in life.