By Jacinta Nwachukwu,
Medical experts observe that cases of hepatitis — an inflammation of the liver –are on the increase in Nigeria.
They note that although there are five types of the disease such as hepatitis A, B, C, D and E, the most common that have been on the increase are hepatitis A, B and C.
According to them, hepatitis, irrespective of its type, destroys the liver and reduces its detoxifying functions resulting in rendering other organs susceptible to diseases.
They believe that hepatitis is more dangerous than AIDS because it kills the carrier slowly and cannot be detected except it is particularly diagnosed.
“The virus is mostly detected in Nigeria in the blood banks during screening of donors’ blood samples before transfusion.
“Most people infected with the virus do not experience any symptoms at the initial phase,’’ Dr Abubakar Maiyaki who works in Usmanu Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto, said.
Expressing concern on the prevalence of the disease, he said not less than two billion people had been infected with hepatitis B virus worldwide.
“The World Healthbillion (WHO) says Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) can survive and remain infectious on environmental surfaces for at least seven days.
“HBV can be found in all major body fluids of infected people, including blood, semen, sweat, tears, urine, vaginal fluid and even saliva, he quoted a report by the organisation.
Maiyaki also observed that HBV could be transmitted from an infected pregnant mother during child birth.
“Other factors include multiple sexual partners, recycled needle, transfusion of unscreened blood, circumcision and tattooing, among others.
“Also, available record has shown that more than 20 million people in Nigeria are infected by various types the disease while more than 170 million people are chronically infected with Hepatitis C worldwide,’’ he said.
In the same vein, Prof. Innocent Ujah, Director-General, Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), argued that as deadly as the disease has proved to be, it is astonishingly neglected and not considered a public health problem by policy makers.
He agreed with a report that no fewer than 20 million Nigerians were infected with hepatitis B and C, indicating that one in every 12 Nigerians was infected with the virus.
“Those infected with viral hepatitis is at increased risk of developing liver cirrhosis, which may progress to liver cancer and eventual death of the person,’’ he observed.
Stating the cause of the disease, Dr Rosemary Audu, Deputy Director, NIMR, said: “Viral hepatitis is caused majorly by Hepatitis A virus, Hepatitis B virus and Hepatitis C virus.
“However, hepatitis D and E viruses also exist and cause infection to the liver. Other causes of hepatitis include toxic substances such as alcohol and certain drugs and metabolic disorders.
“WHO has identified the urgent need to prevent viral hepatitis, so we have to enhance actions to prevent the infection and ensure that people who have been infected are diagnosed and given treatment.’’
Sharing similar sentiments, Dr Emuobor Odeghe, a consultant physician and gastroenterologist in Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, noted that the major transmission routes of the diseases included child-to-child through abrasions and infected insect bites, among others.
“Others are mother to child transmission, unsafe injections and use of contaminated instruments during surgical procedures, drug sharing and homosexual activities. There is the need to scale up prevention strategies against hepatitis.
“Strategies should include screening for all pregnant women and immunisation of all newborns with HBV vaccine within 12 hours of birth.
“Routine childhood vaccination, catch-up vaccination for adolescents and vaccination of people at high risks are also part of the strategies,’’ she explained.
According to her, those at higher risk include health workers, partners and close contacts of people with hepatitis, homosexuals, dialysis patients and those that require transfusion of blood.
Concerned about the spread of the virus, Dr Femi Ayoola, a general physician, said the prevalence of Hepatitis B among health workers in the country was high.
According to him, HBV is a well-known occupational hazard among health workers because they are at greater risk of exposure to the virus.
“It is worrisome because healthcare workers constitute a substantial risk of transmitting the virus to their patients,’’ he said.
Ayoola, however, attributed the prevalence of the virus to unsafe clinical practices, ignorance and negligence by health workers.
“HBV is common due to lack of knowledge about the infectious occupational risk of the virus, lapses in the sterilisation technique of instruments and improper hospital waste management.
“HBV, which is more easily transmitted from person to person than HIV, can be contracted by skin prick with infected, contaminated needles and syringes,’’ he said.
Ayoola insisted that a significant level of enlightenment and vaccination coverage among health workers were needed to reduce the burden of the disease.
In his view, Dr Safiya Ojo, a general medical practitioner with the Wuse General Hospital, Abuja, said creating more awareness on the diseases would reduce the death rate of hepatitis in the country, urging Nigerians to know their hepatitis status.
“Hepatitis A and E are typically caused by intake of contaminated food or water, hepatitis B, C and D usually occur as a result of parental contact with infected body fluids.
“Like any other diseases, practising a good hygiene can help prevent the risk of getting it as well checking the spread of the virus,’’ he said.
Worried about the prevalence of the disease, Dr Adegboyega Akere of the Endocrinology Department, College of Medicine of the University College Hospital, Ibadan, observed that 40 persons out of the 200 persons recently screened for Hepatitis B tested positive.
“Sometimes, the virus causes a long term infection and over time, the liver gets damaged,’’ he explained.
“People may have the disease without being aware of it because it may not manifest any symptoms initially while its symptoms rarely occur as flu.
“Other symptoms could be noticed as yellow colour of the skin and eyes (jaundice), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain,’’ he said.
Medical experts, therefore, stress the need for increased awareness on the danger of hepatitis infections because reports have found it to be on the increase.
They recommend that people who have the disease and the concerned citizens should cooperate to form a vanguard for inspiring awareness campaign on hepatitis and its danger on human existence.
While they solicit routine blood screening for hepatitis B and C among Nigerians to reduce the risk of infection, they call on the government to also subsidise the cost of drugs for treating hepatitis.(NANFeatures)
**If used, please credit the writer as well as News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)