World Hepatitis Day: Hepatitis C is India’s Hidden Pandemic

Every year July 28 is celebrated as World Hepatitis Day in order to spread awareness on Hepatitis, its types and preventive measures. This year the theme of World Hepatitis Day is “Hepatitis-free future,” with a strong focus on preventing Hepatitis B (HBV) among mothers and newborns. However, when it comes to India, we have plagued with Hepatitis C for decades.

There are five main strains of the hepatitis virus – A, B, C, D and E. Together, Hepatitis B and C are the most common cause of deaths, with 1.4 million lives lost each year. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, viral hepatitis continues to claim thousands of lives every day. Hepatitis is also responsible for many health complications including Liver Cirrhosis and Liver Cancer.

Hepatitis C is the most prevalent type of Hepatitis in India. According to Dr Apurva Shah – Gastroenterologist, Apollo Hospitals Ahmedabad, “Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C virus enter the liver and stay there until a large portion of liver is damaged post which the disease is manifested. About 80% of Hepatis C patients are asymptomatic and by the time they come in for diagnosis the disease has already reached advanced stage.”

Hepatitis B and C have been prevalent in Gujarat since last few decades. Year 2009 saw around 50 people in an area die due to Hepatitis B in Gujarat. While there have been no deaths due to Hepatitis since last 3 years but the health risks involved due to Hepatitis can lead to fatalities. Hepatitis B and C affect people among 18-66 years and 30-65 years respectively.

“Mother-to-baby transmission of hepatitis B is common and is a serious problem as the child may develop liver cirrhosis causing permanent damage to the liver. Child-to-child transmission of hepatitis B can occur within a family. While when it comes to Hepatitis C the virus is transmitted through contact with blood or other body fluids of an infected person” added Dr Apurva Shah

Vaccine against Hepatitis B is available and hence all neonates should be vaccinated against hepatitis B and expectant mothers should be screened for the disease. Personal hygiene, usage of clean and sterilized needles and avoiding direct exposure to blood and other body fluids are advised to prevent on self from Hepatitis C. However, along with prevention, regular screening and blood tests are advised to detect and treat Hepatitis at an early stage.