Hepatitis B – Dissecting the Disease
Hepatitis B. A name which evokes fear in many. Most people are unaware about this disease and its implications. It’s more common than you think it is and it is a potentially life threatening liver infection which may even lead to liver cancer.
However, there is no need to worry, folks! MTTN is here to dispel all your myths regarding Hepatitis B and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) through the Manipal STD Awareness Week.
Myth 1: Hepatitis B is hardly prevalent in India. Why should I bother about it?
Myth Buster: Around 3-5% of the Indian population is infected with Hepatitis B at any given time, and considering large our population is, it adds up in millions. India is home to about 36 million carriers, who transmit the disease without manifesting its symptoms. So, the numbers are huge.
Myth 2: There is no way that I can get Hepatitis B. I’ve never even hung out with an HBV infected person.
Myth Buster: Sorry guys, Hepatitis B is transmitted through injection drug use, needle stick injuries and unprotected sexual intercourse. It can also be transmitted from a mother to her child when she is pregnant. So if you guys fall into the high risk groups stated above, you might want to be extra cautious.
Myth 3: Hepatitis B is only an inflammation of the liver, right? It doesn’t seem to be a severe disease worth talking about.
Myth Buster: Many serious conditions are in fact inflammations of various parts of the body! Myocarditis, gastritis, pancreatitis, arthritis, myositis, lymphadenitis…..the list goes on. Hepatitis B is not to be taken lightly. It first manifests as a yellowing of the skin and eyes followed by dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. If left untreated it can lead to liver failure and liver cancer, also called hepatocellular carcinoma.
Myth 4: Even if I get Hepatitis B, treating it won’t be a big deal for sure. My liver can regenerate!
Myth Buster: Nope. In fact, there is no specific treatment for acute hepatitis B and care is mainly supportive, aimed at maintaining the fluid balance in the body. The good news is that chronic hepatitis B can be treated with antiviral drugs, so that’s something to be happy about.
However, the bad news is that since the drugs can only stop the virus from multiplying and cannot eliminate it completely, the treatment has to be continued lifelong. I don’t think any of you guys would want a virus in your body all your life right? *shudders*
A diseased liver does not have the same capacity to regenerate as a healthy one. Also, many parts of India still do not have access to diagnostic and treatment modalities. In some settings, people are diagnosed only when the disease has progressed to cancer, and may succumb within months of diagnosis.
Myth 5: If I contract hepatitis B, liver transplantation will wipe out all my worries. It’s the universal solution!
Myth Buster: You may get wiped out along with your worries, even after getting a liver transplant! The success rates of transplantation vary, and it is difficult to find a donor too. Immunosuppresants will have to be continued life long, and there is a risk of graft versus host disease. Surely you wouldn’t want to find out what that is, right?
So with all that in mind, here are a few tips which will keep you healthy and happy, and most of all, safe from Hepatitis B:
• Avoid unprotected sexual intercourse. Yep, this has been reiterated time and again and its importance cannot be stressed upon enough. It is better to be safe than sorry.
• All the medical and allied health science students, this one is for you. Practice the universal precautions every time you go to the hospital. Always dispose used needles and syringes immediately. Wear gloves and masks before witnessing or performing any invasive procedure. Remember to wash and scrub religiously before and after any surgical procedure.
• Avoid injection drug use. Stop sharing needles and syringes to inject drugs. Injection drug users have the highest risk of contracting hepatitis B, so do the math wisely.
• Do not share personal items such as razors, toothbrushes, towels and nail files with anybody else, especially those who have cuts or abrasions on their skin.
• Pregnant women should get themselves screened in the first trimester itself to rule out hepatitis B, HIV etc. If they test positive, then the necessary remedial measures should be taken.
• Get yourself vaccinated. The Hepatitis B vaccine has been recommended for high risk groups like nurses, doctors and paramedics. It has been widely used all over the world and has been proven to be safe and effective. Regular post vaccination testing of antibody titres is recommended and no booster dose is required.
So guys, remember, prevention is always better than cure. A stitch in time saves nine.
Stay healthy and protected!
Also here’s another word of advice: An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Just for good measure!
Delve deeper into our series on STD Awareness.