Hepatitis is a viral disease that can cause long-lasting damage to the liver. Though the disease is typically spread through blood-to-blood contact, it can be contracted — albeit relatively rarely — through unprotected sex.
In India, hepatitis is a concerning disease due to the fact that it is rarely diagnosed. This allows for long-term damage to the liver to take place, causing more serious issues often years down the line.
Dr Sanjay Sarin, Head of FIND India, suggests that four out of five people with hepatitis C in India are unaware of the presence of the disease. As such, estimated figures may be significantly lower than the realistic number of individuals infected. This is more true of rural areas where diagnostics services are often far less equipped to deal with the issue.
The World Health Organization estimates that India may hold between six and twelve million individuals infected with hepatitis C. One of the key concerns is that, due to the disease’s low diagnosis rate, its spread will be taking place unknowingly from mother to child.
In addition, as the disease is passed through blood-to-blood contact, many drug users — individuals often in impoverished situations who cannot afford medical treatment — contract the disease. Again this is often unknowingly, and when needles are shared to take drugs intravenously, transmission of the disease continues.
Viral hepatitis as a whole, including hepatitis A, B, C, D and E, have been equated by some studies as a public health threat comparable to the “Big Three” communicable diseases – HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
Hepatitis often goes completely under the radar as symptoms do not often appear until severe liver damage is caused. This may not occur for some years. The final result of liver damage can be serious and life-threatening, and is a common cause of acute liver failure.
When symptoms do occur upon infection, they are non-specific and can easily be confused with other infections such as a common stomach infection. Abdominal pain may be experienced. In addition, loss of appetite, flu-like symptoms and vomiting may also occur.
Prevention and treatment
Prevention is the best method of avoiding the disease, though it is entirely treatable. Avoiding any object that may be contaminated with blood is a necessity, especially in communities where drug use may occur as infected needles are a common transmission method. Though it is infrequent the disease may be transferred during sex; therefore use of a condom is also a viable means of avoiding transmission.
In recent years, the introduction of highly effective direct acting antiviral (DAA) drugs in India has enabled cure rates of up to 95 per cent within a span of twelve to 24 weeks. However, some of these drugs may be unaffordable to hepatitis patients, despite costs lowering over time since they have been introduced.