Hepatitis: The Silent Killer
According to WHO “viral hepatitis is the 8th highest cause of mortality globally and was responsible for 1.34 million deaths in 2015, a toll comparable to that of HIV and tuberculosis. Globally, approximately 257 million persons are chronically infected with hepatitis B and 71 million with hepatitis C. At this rate, an estimated 20 million deaths will occur between 2015 and 2030.” Consequently, to equip us all with sufficient knowledge and awareness to deal with this threat, every 28th of July is globally dedicated to understand the causes, prevention techniques, types and treatment of hepatitis.
In the world of medicine, hepatitis is also known as the silent killer. It is an inflammatory condition of the liver which is usually caused by viral infections and can be self-limiting or lead to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or even liver cancer. Owing to the fact that there are other factors which can cause hepatitis in a person such as autoimmune diseases, wherein a person can spend years unaware that their bodies have developed antibodies against their liver and are slowly but severely damaging it, it has been termed thus as a silent killer. By the time the patient begins to struggle with its complications, in many cases it is already too late by then.
Prior to understanding how exactly does hepatitis infect us, let us first determine the functional significance of liver in maintaining our health. “The liver regulates most chemical levels in the blood and excretes a product called bile. This helps carry away waste products from the liver. All the blood leaving the stomach and intestines passes through the liver. The liver processes this blood and breaks down, balances, and creates the nutrients and also metabolizes drugs into forms that are easier to use for the rest of the body or that are nontoxic. More than 500 vital functions have been identified with the liver.” (Liver anatomy and functions, Johns Hopkins medicine) as a result, hepatitis is not only caused by viral infection but also by poor personal hygiene and or an altogether unhygienic environment, by the consumption of excessive alcohol, and overuse of antibiotic drugs, and by any edible item which burdens and eventually harms the functioning of liver.
“There are 5 main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. These 5 types are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread. In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.
Hepatitis A and E are typically caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B, C and D usually occur as a result of parenteral contact with infected body fluids. This common modes of transmission for these viruses include receipt of contaminated blood or blood products, invasive medical procedures using contaminated equipment and for hepatitis B transmission from mother to baby at birth, from family member to child, and also by sexual contact.
Acute infection may occur with limited or no symptoms, or may include symptoms such as jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.” [World Health Organisation WHO)
In essence, Pakistan being a third world country has to often struggle with the provision of proper healthcare facilities. As a consequence, every year there are 150,000 new cases of hepatitis in our country. The role that we can play as individuals to supplement government’s efforts to curtail and prevent hepatitis, and to assist doctors in treating its infected patients, is to become the moral strength of such patients. For although mental stress and anxiety are not directly contributory factors in causing hepatitis, doctors agree that they certainly threatens success of the treatment by further weakening patients immunity. So let us take this opportunity to include in our daily, weekly, or even fortnightly schedules, a visit to a hepatitis patient and freshen up their struggles by dispelling their dejection. Let them know that everything is not doom and gloom! that their suffering would surely, by the grace of the Almighty, soon come to an end!
By Talha Masood
Assistant Communication Officer, HDF