A “silent killer” is how National Liver Foundation’s Dr Samir R Shah refers to Hepatitis B.

It is a disease that you do not have a control over, and it leads to serious liver disease and death, says Dr Shah, a liver specialist with Mumbai’s Breach Candy and Jaslok Hospital, who had treated former Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.

Reports say that the former Chief Minister, who passed away on Tuesday, had Hepatitis B and developed cirrhosis of the liver.

About 2-4 per cent of the country’s population carry the Hepatitis B virus and most of them are not aware of it, says Dr Shah.

Of this, about 20 per cent develop serious cancer diseases, he says, urging greater intervention and screening.

Singling out transmission of the virus from a mother to her child as one of the key causes of prevalence, accounting for about 90 per cent of the incidence, he stressed the need for intervention through vaccination.

In the case of a Hepatitis B infected mother, the infant needs to be given its first doze within 12 hours of being born, Dr Shah said, adding that even doctors need to be sensitised to this critical fact.

In Taiwan, a similar intervention is reversing the prevalence of liver cancer in kids, he added.

In India, about 25-40 million people have Hepatitis B and a lakh die each year from serious liver diseases. Globally, about six lakh people die from serious liver ailments.

Universal immunisation

Ten years ago, Hepatitis B was introduced in India’s universal immunisation programme, where children are vaccinated against a set of diseases.

The Hepatitis B initiative was started in Maharashtra.

The National Liver Foundation (NFL) is now doing a reality check to gauge how well the programme has covered the population, and identify the loopholes that need to be plugged to ensure that all children get vaccinated.

NLF, along with non-government organisations United Way Mumbai and AmeriCares has embarked on a three-pronged project of “Information-Education-Communication” towards making India a “Hepatitis B-free” nation.

jyothihehindu.co.in

(This article was published on August 14, 2012)
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