Globally, 300m people do not know they have hepatitis: WHO
Dubai - The World Health Organisation (WHO) is calling on people around the globe to take action and raise awareness.
Around 300 million people across the world are unaware that they are living with viral hepatitis. Today, on World Hepatitis Day, the local health community in the UAE is reiterating its commitment to help completely eliminate hepatitis by 2030. And it all starts with 'finding the missing millions'.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is calling on people around the globe to take action and raise awareness so that those with hepatitis can get diagnosed.
"As a healthcare provider, we have to find out those who are undiagnosed with viral hepatitis and link them to the healthcare system," said Dr Shareej S, gastroenterologist at Zulekha Hospital Dubai.
"Early diagnosis, prompt intervention and appropriate treatment significantly improve outcomes."
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. It can be self-limiting or can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer.
There are five main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and, together, they are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.
In the UAE, the prevalence of the hepatitis C virus is less than one per cent, but only 30 to 50 per cent of patients are diagnosed.
Dr Jose Such, a hepatologist at the Digestive Disease Institute, pointed out that at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, there are more cases of hepatitis B than type C.
"Majority of patients with hepatitis B are classed as healthy carriers, meaning the virus is not causing inflammation of the liver, eliminating the need for medical treatment."
Hepatitis A and B can be prevented with vaccines, he added.
Children born in the UAE are vaccinated at birth, but older generations may still be susceptible.
"I recommend the vaccine to my patients as it is a vital tool in the fight against hepatitis," said Dr Such.
"There is no available vaccine against hepatitis C, but patients over the age of 45 and those who received blood transfusions in the past should be screened."
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 contact with infected body fluids.
The common modes of transmission 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 and also by sexual contact.
One in 12 people globally is infected with the type B due to sexual transmission and intraveneous drug abuse, according to Dr Mashhood Villyoth, gastroenterologist at Aster Hospital Qusais.
Transmissions from a mother to her newborn may also occur. But if the infection has been detected during the pregnancy, adequate treatment can prevent the transfer of the virus to the baby, Dr Villyoth said.
An infection may take place with limited or no symptoms. If symptoms are present, they usually include yellowing of the skin and eyes, dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.