Today is World hepatitis day and I just can not stay out of the conversation given how important this topic is😊. The Theme for this year’s World Hepatitis day is “Hepatitis can’t wait”. On this day, we are all called upon to work together to eliminate hepatitis of all forms especially viral hepatitis in our communities. Hello there and welcome back to my blog🙏🏾
I heard the case of a pregnant woman who tested positive for hepatitis B at the time she started antenatal attendance. She was very worried. She knew hepatitis B was contagious and was afraid for herself and her family. Friends and family advised her to use separate plates and cutlery, washing dishes with warm water, etc. These only worsened her fears and made her anxious throughout the pregnancy. The doctor advised her to get an injection for the baby at the time of birth however, she was unable to afford this even at the point of discharge.
15 years down the line, her son became sick with deeply yellowed eyes, an enlarged abdomen, and massive weight loss. They reported to the hospital and after a series of tests, her son was diagnosed with chronic liver disease from chronic hepatitis B😱. Her 2 younger children were tested, and they were both hepatitis B positive😔. She admitted that she never followed through with testing nor got the injection for the younger children.
Her first son died after a month on admission and the other children were referred to see a paediatrician while she was referred to a physician specialist.
A sad outcome that could have been prevented😫.
Simply put, is inflammation of the liver and can have many causes. Alcohol, drugs, viruses, and fungi are all known to cause inflammation of the liver. There are 5 main types of Viral hepatitis: A, B, C, D, and E. The commonest and most burdensome, however, are Hepatitis B and C. For the purposes of this article, I will talk more of hepatitis B which is very common in most parts of Ghana.
It’s the inflammation of the liver caused by Hepatitis B virus. WHO 2019 estimates show that worldwide, 1.5 million people get infected with hepatitis B yearly with some 296 million people living with chronic hepatitis B. 81 million of these chronically infected persons live in the African region.
In Ghana, studies have shown that about 14% of adolescents and 8.3% of young adults have Hepatitis B (Abesig, Julius, Chen, Yancong,Wang Huan, Mwekele, Faustin, Irene, Sompo2020).
Why fret over Viral Hepatitis B?
- Hepatitis B infection and its complications accounted for more deaths than malaria or HIV.
- Hepatitis B is highly infectious and yet preventable. It is believed to be about 100x more infectious than HIV.
- Hepatitis B infections continue to double despite scientifically proven preventive strategies.
Hepatitis B spread
Hepatitis B is spread mainly through blood and blood products. Even in cases of active infection levels of viral copies in breastmilk, sweat and urine contain nondetectable levels meaning spread through these sources is highly unlikely.
Prevention of Hepatitis B
Scientifically proven ways of preventing Hepatitis B infection include,
- Vaccination of all newborns and infants preferably within 24hrs of birth, then at 4 weeks and 8 weeks. The immunization program in Ghana however starts hepatitis B vaccination at 6 weeks after birth, then at 10weeks and 14weeks. One may ask what happens within the 6 weeks that they are unimmunized when grandmothers and aunties all handle babies with visible and invisible cuts that ooze body fluids? Your guess is as good as mine🙃.
- Routinely screen all pregnant women for Hepatitis B and manage accordingly. No need to be afraid when you test positive during pregnancy, just request to be referred to a specialist and you will be sorted one time! Women who test positive will undergo further testing and depending on the results, may be started on treatment while pregnant. However, all women who are Hepatitis B positive must ensure their babies receive the hepatitis B immunoglobulin and vaccination preferably within 24 hours of birth and at most within 72 hours of birth. Your midwife or doctor will tell you this (Dear HCW, don’t disappoint me😃). Please be sure to buy it to protect your baby.
- Vaccination of all unimmunized individuals who test negative at any point in time with the first dose given at the time of testing, then at 4 weeks, and finally at 6 months.
- Practicing safe sex ( the good old ABC still holds here you know). Avoid sharing personal articles like towels, toothbrushes
- Mandatory screening of all blood and blood products before transfusion to individuals in need of blood. All blood and blood products leaving the blood bank are certified negative for Hepatitis B before it is given out for use( nti fear not😄)
Caution to the “Vaccinated”
Have you received the Hepatitis B vaccine? If yes? Are you immunized? There is a huge difference between getting vaccinated and being immunized oo🧐. Vaccination means, you got the drug into your system. Immunization means, your system has responded by producing the required chemicals (antibodies) to keep you protected. So not all who are vaccinated are immunized.
If you have gotten your three shots, don’t go to sleep. Follow up in a month or two for an antibody test to be sure your body responded(best practice💪🏾). If there are no adequate antibodies, your risk is still high and you will have to start the process all over again.👍🏾
As the saying goes, “agoro 3y3 d3 nu, na adie 3sa nkrosi fuo” 😅. Until I come your way again, keep safe😷 as COVID-19 is still here and even stronger.
Know that even though COVID is here, hepatitis B can’t wait!✅