The liver has a crucial role to play (in) infusing our zest for life. A spirit that we take for granted, could completely crash when the liver is afflicted. The most notorious of liver afflictions is Hepatitis, which could cause a host of associated ailments that could endanger life. Many lives have changed beyond repair due to the disease - The World Hepatitis Day is a reality check of the world status in the treatment of this disease.
The distinct categories of Hepatitis are A, B and C of which Hepatitis B is particularly virulent. In India alone, nearly 36 million people are severely affected by the Hepatitis B virus. Worldwide, the figures are estimated at 300 to 400 million people, and the vulnerable areas are Southeast Asia, China, sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
In the United States, there are nearly 2 million cases of Hepatitis B, attributed to the heavy flow of immigrants from vulnerable countries. Some of the ethnic communities in the United States do not avail the facilities of the healthcare system. Therefore, many sufferers go undiagnosed and fuel the spread of the disease. Experts have also cautioned that those born before 1985 in the vulnerable areas are at risk; as vaccines for HEP B were not part of the immunization programme.
Honing in on the incidence of the HBV virus, experts have said that the virus is more common than the AIDS virus, and can easily spread through contaminated blood and fluids like saliva, breast milk, vaginal secretions, open wounds, and even tears. The virus is virulent, because it could cause a host of associated chronic illnesses, like Hepatocellular carcinoma. It is estimated that more than half a million people worldwide die each year from hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and up to 80 percent of these cancers are caused by chronic Hepatitis B.
The worst part of the disease is its 'silence'. Many people are carriers of the virus and don't know about it. This is one of the biggest challenges in containing the spread of the disease. Most often, patients seek medical help when it is already too late. The silent killer, as it is called simply eats up the liver, causing cirrhosis, liver cancer and death. Nearly 80% of liver cirrhosis cases are attributed to HBV.
One of the key challenges to combating the spread of the disease is the possibility of co-infection - a person already infected with one type of hepatitis could be vulnerable to the attack of another type of Hepatitis. Therefore, it is imperative that patients in the throes of chronic liver disease should avail vaccination for Hepatitis A. On the same lines, sufferers of Hepatitis C, vulnerable to Hepatitis B, should protect themselves with the Hepatitis B vaccine.
This disease also spells double trouble. HIV, which has similar transmission modes, makes many HIV victims prone to Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C infection. There are currently millions of people worldwide who are infected with both HIV and Hepatitis. HIV simply fuels liver damage and is death sentence for those who are attacked by both the viruses. Many HIV patients ultimately succumb to chronic liver disease.
Key Developments in India
'With the approval and launch of BARACLUDE™ in India, Bristol-Myers Squibb will now be able to address another area of significant unmet medical need: chronic hepatitis B,' said Mr. Eric Breumier, Managing Director, Bristol-Myers Squibb India while launching a new drug in India, for Hepatitis B.
The Drug Controller General of India has recently given the go-ahead for Baraclude™ (entecavir) to treat chronic HEPATITIS B. Baraclude™ is an oral antiviral therapy which will arrest the multiplication of Hepatitis B virus in the liver. This is indeed a positive development for India in the treatment of Hepatitis B.
Existing Impediments Worldwide
Discrepancies in Hepatitis testing, diagnoses and treatment still exist in some countries. These irregularities could spell disaster in the present day with increased movement across borders. Since Hepatitis is a silent disease, the existing drawbacks in testing and diagnosis could multiply the problems in combating hepatitis.
Stigma and lack of awareness of hepatitis still poses a global problem. Often, people do not seek help until it is too late. Timely diagnosis of the disease is imperative to cure. Certain types of Hepatitis are certainly CURABLE, progression of others can be treated, if detected early. The message this World Hepatitis Day is - Be AWARE about HEPATITIS. Seek timely medical help. And live your life well with a healthy liver!