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Hepatitis B and C: Virtually unknown, yet dangerous

Written by GEMS - Government Employees Medical Scheme
About 500 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis B or C, yet awareness about this virus is so low that most of those infected don’t even know it.

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver or a liver infection caused by a number of viruses or toxins. Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common of the six hepatitis viruses, while the B and C strains are considered the most dangerous.

Both hepatitis B and C viruses can have a major impact on your health leading to liver scarring (cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure). Approximately one million people die from these two hepatitis strains every year.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is one of the most common viral infections in the world and is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV. It is found in bodily fluids such as blood, semen, sweat, tears and the breast milk of infected people, which is why it is easily transmitted to newborns. It can be spread through the use of unsterilised tattoo and body piercing instruments.

Not every one will have signs of infection but symptoms can typically include nausea, fatigue, yellowing of the skin, stomach ache, diarrhoea and aching joints. There is a vaccine available that should ideally form part of the childhood vaccination programme. Those who are not vaccinated should remember that it is never too late.

Hepatitis B is diagnosed by a simple blood test. Most people with acute hepatitis B do not need treatment and do not develop long-term liver damage. However, if the virus becomes chronic, treatment with antiviral medication will be required to prevent further damage.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is mainly spread through bloodto- blood contact.

Symptoms include nausea, fatigue, aching muscles and joints, anxiety and depression, poor concentration, stomach ache and loss of appetite. There is no vaccination against hepatitis C but you can safeguard yourself against it by leading a healthy, responsible lifestyle.

Hepatitis C is not treated unless it becomes chronic and then it is treated with medicine that slows or stops the virus from damaging the liver. Should there be extensive damage to the liver upon diagnosis, you may have to undergo a liver transplant.

As the world observes World Hepatitis Day on 28 July, remember to visit your doctor if you have any of the symptoms.

How to Prevent Getting Hepatitis B or Spreading It?

To keep hepatitis B infection from spreading:

  • Get vaccinated (if you have not already been infected)
  • Use condoms during sex
  • Wear gloves when touching or cleaning up body secretions of others on personal items, such as bandages/Band-Aids, tampons, and linen
  • Cover all open cuts or wounds
  • Do not share razors, toothbrushes, manicuring tools, or pierced earrings with anyone
  • Do not share chewing gum Sterilize any needles you use for drugs, ear piercing or tattooing