By Pharm Ibrahim Ochapa, Pharm Greatman Adiela Owhor
Enjoying life is considered a popular desire, one which is possible where health is guaranteed. Health itself can be compromised by many factors, notable among which is hepatitis.
This condition is popular, yet not often talked about. It is the inflammation of the liver caused by drugs, toxins, alcohol, or virus with viruses being the commonest. This group of viruses is called Hepatitis virus and they include hepatitis A, B, and C. The B variant, also known as hepatitis B or HBV causes the most harm to the liver.
According to the Hepatitis B Foundation, about 2 people die each minute from HBV infection. HBV aggressively attacks the liver and severely injures it. Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that about a 300million people are chronically living with HBV infection worldwide with an estimated 30million new infections each year. Since it can be passed from Mother-to-child during childbirth, millions of children are infected globally.
HBV is endemic in the tropical region of the world, making Nigeria an area of high endemicity, putting Nigerians at a high likelihood of acquiring this infection. Currently, about 28million Nigerians live with this virus. Since it usually doesn’t display symptoms, many infected persons are unaware until a great deal of irreparable damage has been done to their liver. The silent nature of the spread led to the name “silent epidemic”.
Hepatitis B virus is very infectious, 100 times more so than the dreaded HIV. One can get HBV by contact with body fluids (sweat, saliva, semen, urine, and tears) from an infected person, blood transfusion, unprotected sex, mother-to-child, and needle prick for health professionals.
Sadly, there is currently no available permanent cure for HBV infection, though some antivirals are used in its management. Generally, the goal of management is to reduce the spread of the virus within the body, increase survival and patient quality of life. Just like most diseases, the earlier the detection and initiation of therapy the better the management outcomes.
With the startling epidemiological data, the salient nature of the infection coupled with the lack of permanent cure comes the enormous responsibility and the need to take action. Though HBV has become a major source of health concern worldwide, all hope is not lost as practical steps taken by individuals and the government would not only slow down the spread but stop it altogether. One of the measures that can be taken to curb the menace is vaccination.
The WHO has recommended that all infants receive hepatitis B vaccine series with the first dose given within 24-48 hours of birth. Subsequent doses are at 6 weeks and 6 months. High-risk individuals- those with diabetes, HIV, multiple sex partners, pregnant women, and health care workers should also get vaccinated. Screening is another important measure. Everybody, whether low-risk or high-risk should get tested. Also, reduction in the number of sex partners, as well the use of barrier protection during sex, to protect against the transmission
In addition to vaccination and screening, public enlightenment would also go a long way to reduce the prevalence of this infection. The government at all levels, together with corporate bodies should carry out public enlightenment campaign which targets the rural population to create awareness. The WHO has done well to designate July 28th as World Hepatitis Day. We must leverage this to massively educate our teeming population about this insidious killer.
Since the Hepatitis B virus has no cure, our surest antidote out of this epidemic is prevention. And everybody has a role to play to ensure we attain a world that is free of Hepatitis B. Go get screened and go a bit further to receive your first dose of HBV vaccine, it takes only a few shots to protect yourself and your loved ones against hepatitis B for a lifetime. And don’t forget to tell someone to do the same.