World Hepatitis Day is observed every year on 28th July to bring the world together under a single theme to raise awareness about the ever-increasing global burden of viral hepatitis.
In 2020 the World Health Organization has given a theme 'Find the Missing Millions'. Worldwide there are 290 million people who are living with viral hepatitis and are unaware of their seropositive status. Without finding the undiagnosed and relating them to care, millions will have to suffer, and lives will be lost. These unaware people must be tested, diagnosed and educated about the benefits of being treated.
Hepatitis means the inflammation of the liver cells. Viral hepatitis is of five types- Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis A and E are transmitted through the fecal-oral route and tend to precipitate an acute liver failure in a small group of the affected patients.
In our country, there is a trend in which Hepatitis A commonly infects children and Hepatitis E is usually affecting young adults and pregnant women. It is being transmitted through food and water, the incidence of both these infections is seen to rise during the rainy season.
Both these viral infections are preventable to a great extent by practicing hand hygiene, consumption of filtered clean water and managing cleanliness while the food is being cooked.
Hepatitis B and C are transmitted through blood and tend to cause chronic infections subsequent leading to cirrhosis; liver failure and liver cancer in a small percentage of the affected population.
In India, a rising trend has been observed in the incidence of both these viral infections. Hepatitis B is predominantly transmitted from the mother to the child during birth (vertical transmission) and in a small percentage of the population, the transmission occurs via needle pricks and unsafe sexual practices.
Hepatitis C is mainly transmitted during unscreened blood transfusions, sharing the same needles for injections in multiple patients and during tattooing where adequate precautions are not taken (horizontal transmission). In a small percentage, the transmission is also seen to take place vertically and during unsafe sex.
A large proportion of the population in our country is unaware that they are carrying the virus and quite a few of them are diagnosed during screening performed at the time of blood donations, before undergoing surgeries, in pregnant women prior to delivery and while people are screened before travelling to certain countries.
Many of these people do not seek medical consultation and bear the brunt of the disease and they end up having liver damage in the form of cirrhosis. There is a need to spread awareness among the population to get themselves screened and seek medical advice if diagnosed with the viral infection. These days antivirals are available which can eliminate the virus from the body in a few months, thereby saving many resources and lives from potentially fatal illnesses. Efforts are underway to educate the common man about the importance of getting tested and the need to be treated for the given virus if found to be infected.
As a hepatologist, it is my humble request to all the readers to make sure that every one of you take the necessary precautions and get the screening done. If found to be infected by any one of the above viruses, seek specialist advice without any fear or anxiety as the condition you have is fully treatable.