Hepatitis the silent killer

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THE World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA) in conjunction with the World Health Organisation (WHO) says there is still need to increase awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis, a disease which remains unknown to many.
July 28 marked a day set aside to increase awareness of the disease.
Running under the theme, ‘Hepatitis; Think Again Against the Silent Killer’, the two organisations said there was need to intensify awareness campaigns and improve access to treatment for viral hepatitis. The term, ‘silent killer’ emphasises the fact that no symptoms are apparent until life threatening conditions develop.
The WHO estimates that at least 1,5 million people world over are killed annually by the ‘silent killer’.
Viral hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by one of the five hepatitis viruses: ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘E’.
All the viruses can cause short-term or acute infection with ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’ viruses potentially causing long-term infection (chronic hepatitis) which can lead to life-threatening complications such as cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer.
Hepatitis ‘A’ and ‘E’ are typically caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water while Hepatitis ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ usually occur as a result of contact with infected body fluids.
The WHO records show that at least one third of the world population has been infected by Hepatitis ‘B’.
Hepatitis B is usually transmitted through sexual intercourse becoming the most common type of viral hepatitis infection in Africa.
According to WHO, there are approximately 50 million chronic carriers of Hepatitis ‘B’ virus (HBV) in Africa, with a 25 percent mortality risk. 
Because of shared modes of transmission, a high proportion of adults at risk of HIV infection are also at risk of Hepatitis ‘B’.
Moreover, HIV positive individuals who become infected with the Hepatitis ‘B’ virus are at increased risk of developing chronic hepatitis.
The WHO estimates that as many as four to five million people may be infected with both HIV and Hepatitis ‘B’ and ‘C’.
Additionally many people are unaware that they are infected as symptoms may only appear much later after serious damage to the liver has already been done.
In the country, immunisation against Hepatitis ‘A’ is given to children twice and may be routinely administered in areas with high incidence of Hepatitis.
Immunisation for Hepatitis ‘B’ is given three times within a period of one to six months.
The WHO recommends infants be administered an initial vaccination against Hepatitis ‘B’ within 24 hours of birth to prevent Hepatitis ‘B’ virus infection in the initial weeks of life.
Studies in Africa suggest that the transmission rate of infants born to HBV-infected mothers is currently between two and 30 percent.
However, in much of sub-Saharan Africa, the birth dose has not been implemented and HBV vaccine coverage remains low.
Hepatitis ‘C’, although uncommon in the region is regarded as the most dangerous form of hepatitis as it has no vaccination available.
Treatment for Hepatitis ‘C’ has, however, become effective that the virus could be completely cured for some.
However, because of general ignorance with regards to viral hepatitis, most people get diagnosed at a very late stage at which the virus would have become chronic, affecting the liver and consequently resulting in death.
Symptoms of hepatitis include fatigue, loss of appetite, fever and jaundice.
Hepatitis infection can be prevented by providing safe food and water, vaccination, screening of blood donations, provision of sterile injecting equipment and the use of condoms to prevent transmission of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).

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