Hepatitis is a disease that, though most would have heard of, not many actually know what it is, how it spreads and the harm it causes. Hepatitis B is, in fact, caused by a virus infection that attacks the liver, destroying tissue and, in severe cases, leading to cancer as the disease progresses.
A cause for concern
There is no cure for Hepatitis B and there is a lack of awareness in India even though the likelihood of contracting the disease is 100 times more than getting HIV. The death toll in one day amounts to as much as the fatalities that occur due to AIDS in an entire year. Liver disease due to Hepatitis B often affects sufferers and causes high mortality rates at the prime of their lives and, after tobacco, it is the highest-rated cause of cancer.
Acute and chronic Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is a serious illness when it becomes chronic. Adults who contract the disease are often able to fight it within a few months, gaining lifelong immunity to it - this is known as Acute Hepatitis B. However, infants and children who contract Hepatitis B usually have to deal with it all their lives as the disease becomes chronic, leading to a host of complications.
High risk for young children
Infants and children with Hepatitis B run the risk of developing liver cancer and cirrhosis later in their lives. In fact, the younger the child is when they contract the disease, the higher their risk of developing chronic Hepatitis B, which could go unnoticed for years before symptoms of liver complications start to make an appearance. Therefore, it is particularly important that newborns and children under the age of 5 are adequately protected - it can be a matter of life and premature death. For vulnerable children, prevention is the only way to keep from being infected. This can be easily done by getting the Hepatitis B vaccine.
Who can the Hepatitis B vaccine help?
The vaccine doses can prevent from contracting the disease. This vaccine is taken in three doses within a six-month schedule.
Newborns who have mothers infected by Hepatitis B need to be vaccinated with the first dose right after delivery. The second shot for infants is given when they are one month old, and the third after 4 months. Older children and adults can also take the Hepatitis B vaccine (usually a 2-shot schedule) according to a dose plan prescribed by a physician.
In case you or your child has missed a scheduled dose, the course does not have to be restarted and the pending shot can be taken as soon as possible.
Here is who the vaccine is recommended for:
● Children and adolescents who have never received the vaccine.
● Those who live with a person infected by Hepatitis B.
● Those who work in healthcare and emergency fields with jobs involving contact with blood.
● Those who have a sexually transmitted disease.
● Those who have a sexual partner with Hepatitis B.
● Those who have more than one sexual partner.
● Drug users who inject illegal substances or run the risk of sharing needles.
● Those with chronic liver disease or end-stage kidney disease.
● Those travelling to a place with a high-risk rate of Hepatitis B infection.
For people who currently suffer from Hepatitis B or have recovered from the disease, the vaccine will not improve your condition. It is advisable, however, to get those you live with vaccinated for protection.
How do adults and children contract the disease?
The disease is transmitted through contact with open wounds, the blood of a person who is infected by the virus, as well as bodily fluids. Those who carry the virus may not even look ill or know they are carriers as symptoms can take up to six months to manifest or not show at all. This can contribute to the spread of the disease. High risks include:
● The use of unsterilized needles for injections, piercings or tattoos.
● Using unsterilised instruments that carry the virus during an operation.
● Wound suturing using unsterilised instruments.
● Blood transfusions using blood containing Hepatitis B.
● Having unprotected sex with someone who carries the virus.
● Transmission from an expectant mother to child during childbirth.
How do you know if you are infected or have been infected in the past?
Though there are symptoms that show within one to six months of having the infection, some people do not exhibit any symptoms and look completely well. If you think you are at risk, getting yourself tested for the disease is the only way of concretely knowing whether you carry the virus or have recovered from it in the past.
Common symptoms of Hepatitis B include:
● Faeces that is light in colour
● Urine that is dark in colour
● Chronic fatigue
● Loss of appetite
● Nausea and/or vomiting
● Pain in the abdomen
Hepatitis B is a deadly disease. Don’t let it be a death sentence to you or your family. Get vaccinated and eliminate your chances of ever contracting the virus.
To know more about the Swasth Immunised India campaign, click here.