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KARACHI, July 28: Liver diseases experts on Saturday said that increasing public awareness of hepatitis and reinforcement of preventive measures was the only way to check the high prevalence rate of the disease in the country.

Speaking at the event held in connection with World Hepatitis Day observed on July 28, the doctors noted that early detection of viral hepatitis cases and their effective medication were necessary to control the disease, avoid complexities, including liver cancer development, and reduce deaths and disabilities.

Participants in an awareness programme arranged by the Aga Khan University Hospital in collaboration with the Pakistan Society for the Study of Liver Diseases were informed that various researches had shown that about 70 per cent of patients suffering from hepatitis C, younger patients with hepatitis C genotype 3 infections, had a very good cure chance provided that they were diagnosed with the disease early and treated effectively.

Aga Khan University medicine department chairman Professor Dr Saeed Hamid said that hepatitis B and hepatitis C affected about 500 million people worldwide and most of them lived in Asia.

“Most of these patients do not know that they have hepatitis,” he added.

He said that there were five types of hepatitis: A (acute), B (acute and chronic), C (chronic, rarely acute), D (chronic) and E (acute).

“Many people who are chronic carriers of hepatitis B and C viruses in Pakistan show no early symptoms and develop severe liver problems later in life,” Dr Hamid said and referred to a recent national survey, which estimated that 10 to 12 million Pakistanis were infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

He further said that both hepatitis B and C viruses were major public health problems in the country, which could affect anyone and as such there was a dire need that people know better about them.

Hepatitis should be diagnosed as early as possible to avoid the outcome of cirrhosis and cancer of the liver, he said.

Dr Wasim Jafri, associate dean, department of continuing professional education, AKU, said that hepatitis B could be easily diagnosed and effectively controlled through medication that usually needed to be taken regularly over a long period of time.

Regarding the spread of hepatitis B, he said that it spread by contact with blood and other bodily fluids of an infected person.

“The Hepatitis B virus can be transferred from an infected mother to her newborn during birth. But an infection can be prevented by giving the baby a hepatitis B immune globulin shot and a series of vaccinations starting at birth. Without vaccination, a baby born to a woman with hepatitis B infection can develop chronic hepatitis, which can lead to serious health problems,” he informed the audience, including young doctors and the general public.

The doctor suggested screening of various groups of people for hepatitis B.

“People born in hyper-endemic areas, homosexual men, injecting drug users, people with HIV, pregnant women and medical professionals largely the paramedical staffers should opt for hepatitis screening,” he said, adding that hepatitis B symptoms included fatigue, anorexia, nausea and low-grade fever after 45 days of incubation.In his presentation on hepatitis C, Dr Shahab Abid said that the disease was a major cause of liver-related deaths, suffering and a major public health problem in the country.

About five per cent of the population was affected by hepatitis C, a situation which called for awareness campaigns and action to avoid unhealthy practices, he said, adding that the disease was curable and at present the gold standard treatment was interferon (injection) and ribavarin (capsule) for six to 12 months.

According to him, steps for treatment of hepatitis C include assessment of the extent of the liver disease, evaluation of complications, assessment of genotype and other molecular tests if required.

Side-effects of hepatitis treatment include fever, body aches, decreased blood count and other problems, he said and added that response rate of hepatitis C treatment was around 80 per cent for genotypes 2 or 3 and around 50pc for genotype 1.

Dr Faisal Wasim of the AKU said that patients who developed severe liver disease as a result of chronic hepatitis were at risk of developing liver cancer.

Hepatitis B could cause cancer at any stage of life, he added.

Rozina Roshan, manager, nursing practices, AKU, stressed that prevention was the key to controlling viral infections that cause hepatitis.

She highlighted the effectiveness of the hepatitis B vaccine which was fortunately part of the routine immunisation of infants in Pakistan.

She said that hepatitis A could spread, if an infected person did not wash their hands properly after going to the bathroom and touched some objects or food; when a parent or a nurse or a caregiver did not properly wash their hands after changing nappies or cleaning up stool of an infected person; when someone engaged in certain sexual activities, such as oral or anal contact with an infected person, and or consuming contaminated food or water.