Viral hepatitis infection is the leading cause of liver cancer and liver failure. Each year, 1.5 lakh people in India die of hepatitis, which affects 60 million persons

By: Rhythma Kaul, Hindustan Times

Each year, 1.5 lakh people in India die of hepatitis, which affects 60 million persons. Yet, very few people in India have heard of the disease that infects and kills more people in India than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

Viral hepatitis infection is the leading cause of liver cancer and liver failure. When the damage is severe and long lasting whether it is from infection, alcohol abuse, toxicity, or autoimmune disorder — the liver creates scar tissue that doesnt regenerate.

These are just rough estimates and a majority of people doesnt even know they are infected because symptoms of jaundice yellowing of skin, whites of the eye and urine occur in late stages of the disease, says Dr SK Sarin, director, Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS), which is a WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis and Liver Diseases in 2015.

Of the five viral hepatitis strains, hepatitis B and hepatitis C cause the most fatal infections, said Dr Sarin, at the Delhi governments Hepatitis Day event at ILBS.Both infections spread through contaminated blood and other fluids, with unsafe blood transfusion, tattoos or dental procedures using unsterilised tools, unprotected sex, sharing razor, etc., leading to the infection spreading from an infected person to a healthy person.

Its a mistake to underestimate the threat of hepatitis, said Shobhana Bhartia, chairperson and editorial director, HT Media Limited, Liver damage is preventable and as with all preventable diseases, one death is too many. We have to do what we can to intensify action to stop the spread of hepatitis, she said.

A state-of-the-art mobile liver-screening van for free screening across Delhi was launched by Delhi health minister Satyendra Jain. Prevention is the key and so is catching the disease early. We have always believed in making healthcare affordable and accessible for masses and this is a step in that direction, said Jain.

The van is installed with the latest equipment, including a fibroscan machine that picks up early signs of liver scarring. Initially, the van will be stationed at Delhi government hospitals and will then be moved to anganwadi centres and underserved areas to conduct door-to-door screening.

We need to increase knowledge about viral hepatitis that is one of the leading causes of deaths. More than 80% of the liver cancer cases happen due to viral hepatitis, said JP Kapoor, director, directorate of family welfare, Delhi government.

Since children are powerful agents of change, more than 20 Delhi schools participated in a poster competition organised by ILBS to exhibit their awareness levels about hepatitis. More than 400 colourful posters were on display based on the hepatitis theme..

Hepatitis B infection has no cure but can be prevented by getting three doses of Hepatitis B vaccine. Testing and treating Hepatitis C is detected through testing and treating, especially those who underwent blood transfusions or surgery before 2001 when blood wasnt screened for the infection.