Hepatitis A and B – Symptoms, Transmission and Prevention

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Hepatitis is a virus that affects the liver. The virus is of two types - Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. Hepatitis A is contracted when consuming contaminated food and water, while Hepatitis B is spread through blood and bodily fluids.

According to the statistics by the World Health Organization (WHO), two billion people worldwide have been infected with the Hepatitis B virus and about 6 lakh people die each year as a result of Hepatitis B infection.

Symptoms

The quirky fact about carrier hepatitis is that it remains asymptomatic. One may live with it, unaware of the infection until a hepatitis-B test is done or a serious liver ailment occurs. The common symptoms of Hepatitis B are jaundice, loss of appetite, vomiting and nausea. If you know of someone suffering from jaundice, make sure you get the person tested for Hepatitis B.

Transmission

Hepatitis A virus spreads through contaminated food and water.
Hepatitis B virus is transmitted through sexual intercourse. Blood and saliva of the infected person can also be responsible for the transmission of the Hepatitis B virus.
As Hepatitis virus can be passed on from a pregnant mother to her child, it is very essential to do Hepatitis tests when one is expecting.

Prevalence in India

Estimates indicate that annually over 100,000 Indians die due to illnesses related to Hepatitis virus infection. The lowest prevalence rate has been observed in Chandigarh and highest prevalence rate has been observed in Chennai.

Prevention

For any infectious disease, ‘prevention’ is the key to reducing its worldwide incidence. Some of the challenges facing prevention of Hepatitis are:

  • Poor Hygiene: Poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, which are a part of the everyday life of millions of people, can be cited as the primary reason for transmission of Hepatitis.
  • Blood transfusion without screening: As scary as it sounds, unscreened blood and blood supplies are also major reasons for spread of the Hepatitis virus.
  • Unsafe Sex: People are completely unaware of the risks of unprotected sex in our country. This negligence is also one of the reasons for spread of the virus.
  • Reuse of injection needles/ pumps: Using needles and pumps that have already been used can cause transmission of the virus. Unfortunately, this practice is still prevalent in some parts of India and disposal of medical waste too is still not standardised in many medical facilities.
  • Not enough medication: Hepatitis A and B can be prevented by vaccination, but the outreach of the vaccination programmes isn’t far enough. Hepatitis A vaccination is available in India, but has not been included in the national immunisation schedule due to its high cost.
  • Negligence in screening people who are at higher risk: Immunisation of high-risk groups - like those with a history of exposure, those with an occupational risk, mother-to-child transmission - is not fully implemented, adding to the risk of further spreading of the virus.