The hepatitis B virus that causes extensive liver damage may be getting transmitted through articles of personal use such as toothbrushes, towel or even a handkerchief. Sharing clothes, razors, combs, bedsheets can also transmit the virus.
‘More than 95% of people infected with chronic Hepatitis B or C are unaware of their infection, putting them at an increased risk of developing liver cirrhosis or liver cancer which are serious and life threatening in nature.’
It is a disease, which spreads from blood-to-blood contact. It is 100 times more infectious than the AIDS virus. According to medical experts, chronically infected people can pass the virus on to others and are at increased risk for liver problems later in life.
In fact, a large degree of the virus transmission is now believed to be occurring through such contact, says N.K. Arora, All India Institute of Medical Sciences. "Basically, anything that rubs against the skin, which could include contact sports as well, could lead to transmission," cautions Arora.
However, unlike HIV, hepatitis B virus can remain alive for three to four months outside the body, at room temperature. Although it gets destroyed immediately if it comes in contact with a detergent. Direct linkages of such transmission may not have been established within the country, but there is enough evidence from studies conducted elsewhere.
In a joint paper with the Indian Council of Medical Research, researchers Arora, Lalit Kant and Prashant Mathur discuss studies in Ghana, wherein sharing of bath towels, chewing gum or partially eaten candy, dental cleaning material and biting of finger nails in conjunction with scratching the back of carriers have been identified as risk factors of transmission.
In India, close to 40 million people are estimated to be carriers of the virus. Over a period of two to three decades, these people may develop serious liver problems which include liver cirrhosis as well as liver cancer. Most infection is said to occur during the first ten years of life. By the age of five, close to 80 percent of the carriers get infected, says Arora.
Hepatitis B, which manifests itself as acute jaundice, is a rather silent killer. Usually the disease shows only when the liver starts showing symptoms of cancer. As a result of transmission through personal belongings and close contacts, the transmission rate within family members is about 30 percent higher. Childhood transmission by the virus is primarily due to close contact with carriers, especially in highly endemic developing countries.