Today being World Hepatitis day, we had a word with Dr. Adams Kimura of Equity Afia on what Hepatitis is and what we can do to reduce spread. Here is what he had to say.
What Is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an infection or inflammation of the liver where we have an infective agent that attacks your liver. The liver is a very important organ located on the right side of the abdomen.
What Is the Difference Between Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C?
There are several agents that cause hepatitis – viral, bacterial, fungal or toxins and other things. When it is viruses, the most common are named A, B, C and D based on their structure.
How Common Is Acute Hepatitis B in Kenya?
Acute hepatitis B is a very common infection because it is easily transmitted in many ways, mainly through blood and semen products. Transmission by blood happens when you touch blood with your bare hands or come into contact with blood in any way. This is where we talk about piercings, IV drug users sharing needles, tattoos that are done incorrectly, and many other instances where blood can transfer. With semen it is mostly unprotected sex with multiple partners.
Can I Donate Blood, Organs or Semen if I Have Hepatitis B?
No, you cannot. You will infect another person and you do not want to carry that risk.
What Are the Symptoms of Acute and Chronic Hepatitis B?
Acuteness is in the period in which you have acquired the infection and developed the disease. If this has happened within the first six weeks, we call that acute. Symptoms are pain in the liver which is at the right upper area of the abdomen. There are fevers, lethargy and vomiting like with other normal infections but the most specific for Hepatitis B are liver pain and yellowness of the eyes.
Can a Person Spread Hepatitis B Without Having Symptoms?
Yes. Most People with Hepatitis B are asymptomatic and recover without major concerns and a percentage that doesn’t recover become carriers of the virus. Both carries and infected but asymptomatic people can spread the virus and more so carriers because they harbour it for longer periods of time, even years. We worry more about carriers because asymptomatic people will just recover and clear the infection in weeks so transmission is low.
How is acute and chronic hepatitis B treated?
There are specific agents that kill the virus, basically antiviral. Depending on how the infection has affected the patient, other interventions may come in.
What can people with Chronic Hepatitis B do to take care of their liver?
Chronic Hepatitis B can damage the liver and so to avoid further damage, avoid things like alcohol that are already known to affect the liver. Seek treatment if infected, then be keen on your lifestyle and avoid drugs and medicines that may affect the liver. They should inform the doctor of their condition before seeking any prescription.
Can Hepatitis B be prevented?
Yes. Hepatitis B can be prevented with vaccination. Every virus prevention starts from infancy, and we have vaccines for children. But even as an adult you can get vaccinated, and get boosters especially for people who work in high-risk areas, eg healthcare workers who come into constant contact with blood and seminal material. IV drug users and commercial sex workers should also be keen to vaccinate. Prevention also involves screening and treating infected people in good time.
Can a pregnant woman pass Hepatitis B to her unborn child?
Yes. Vertical transmission as we call it is possible and its actually a problem. It is important for women in the reproductive age to ensure that they are vaccinated against Hepatitis B. As part of ante natal checkups, we screen for such viruses which can move from the mother to the unborn child and cause problems for the baby.
Why is the Hepatitis B vaccine recommended for all babies?
For a preventable disease, you wouldn’t want to risk your children or anybody else to getting infected and risking permanent damage to the liver. It is therefore highly recommended that we make use of the vaccine. Remember that as much as 90% of infected people may recover, 10% may develop chronicity and have liver damage which could lead to liver failure.