UAE: 40-50 per cent of hepatitis cases remain undiagnosed, says doctors

Annual tests can help in early diagnosis and cure, say medics, as the country marks World Hepatitis Day



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by

Nandini Sircar

Published: Thu 28 Jul 2022, 4:44 PM

Last updated: Thu 28 Jul 2022, 6:27 PM

While the prevalence of hepatitis B and C (HBV and HCV) in the UAE is low, doctors underline that nearly 40-50 per cent of patients may remain undiagnosed.

As the UAE marks World Hepatitis Day on July 28, healthcare professionals aver citizens and residents should do annual blood checkups to know if there are any alterations in liver function tests and consequently check for the hepatitis virus.

Dr Srinivas Patnaikuni Specialist Gastroenterology Prime Medical Center Burjuman Branch said, “A good number of patients remain undiagnosed because of various reasons like low viral load, low immunity among others. The numbers may range somewhere between 40 to 50 per cent. There are two types are hepatitis – B and C. These two strains cause both short-term acute hepatitis as well as long-term illness like cirrhosis and liver cancer. When a patient is diagnosed with any of these two, one should be under constant monitoring and treatment by a gastroenterologist. “

He adds, “Most patients are asymptomatic especially when infected by hepatitis B and C. But acute hepatitis presents itself with fever, fatigability, loss of appetite, dull pain in the abdomen, yellow discolouration of eyes (jaundice).”

Hepatitis which is inflammation of the liver can appear acutely or in chronic form. Hepatitis A, B, and E can cause acute hepatitis. Hepatitis B and C viruses are associated with chronic hepatitis.

Explaining how it is transmitted Dr Amal Premchandra Upadhyay, Consultant Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Aster Hospital, Mankhool, Dubai says, “Hepatitis A and E viruses are transmitted through the fecal-oral route meaning they spread through contaminated food and water. This kind of infection presents with jaundice and lasts for a few weeks. In these cases, complete recovery is possible unless complications set in.

Chronic hepatitis mostly presents with no symptoms. Sometimes, they present with vague symptoms such as extreme fatigue. When it progresses to an advanced stage, chronic hepatitis causes liver injury leading to cirrhosis. In this case, patients may present with jaundice and other symptoms caused by damage to the liver.”

Dr Upadhyay adds, “Since chronic hepatitis is mostly asymptomatic, diagnosis depends on a high level of suspicion. It is commonly diagnosed when treating physicians suspect or detect any risk factors and conduct a relevant test for hepatitis B and C.”

Reflecting on the visible symptoms for hepatitis B and C, Dr. Hardik Parmar, Specialist Gastroenterologist, Medeor Hospital, Abu Dhabi says, “As people do not exhibit any symptoms, it is a bit dangerous. If you have acute hepatitis caused by any virus, you can see yellow eyes, yellow urine, weakness, vomiting, etc. You don't usually have symptoms in the case of hepatitis B and C, which can cause chronic infection, liver cirrhosis, or cancer.”

Risk factors for hepatitis B and C include blood transfusion or exposure to blood or body fluids.

Dr Parmar adds, “This includes sexual exposure as well. Hepatitis C has now become completely treatable with oral medication and can achieve a cure in early 99 per cent of patients. For this reason, it is important to suspect, test, diagnose and treat hepatitis C. It can prevent the development of other complications down the line.

Hepatitis B cannot be completely cured with medication. But it can be well-controlled. Untreated hepatitis B is a risk factor for lupine liver cancer; hence it is important to diagnose and treat this condition at the earliest. Also, if anybody has first-degree relatives with hepatitis B or C, they should test for these viruses.”

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