Worrying ignorance of hepatitis symptoms in Nigeria

... 60 per cent more prone to contact Hepatitis B

Medical experts have warned people in Nigerians need to level-headed up about hepatitis and take the disease more seriously saying the prevalence of infection is high and lack of awareness about the of chronic viral infection  in the country links to high number of death.

Hepatitis affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide, causing acute and chronic disease. At least there are about five viruses that can cause hepatitis. The three most common are hepatitis viruses A, B and C.

“An average Nigerian is 60 per cent more likely to contact Hepatitis B Virus, a national prevalence of about 15 per cent; the virus has infected about 27 million Nigerians and less than five percent know they are infected,” said Tasiu Ibrahim, a medical doctor and a fellow of the Kashim Ibrahim Fellows (KIF) on Monday at the roll-out of a five-day sensitisation campaign against Hepatitis B Virus (HBV), as part of the fellowship Community Service Week (CSW) in Kaduna.

According to Ibrahim, the disease is three times more infectious than HIV/AIDS because it leads to liver failure, cancer and ultimately death in infected persons.

“The objective of the campaign is to raise awareness on HBV, provide free voluntary screening and counselling and engage stakeholders to advocate for policy change regarding the virus.

“Hepatitis B infection, caused by the HBV is commonly transmitted via body fluids such as blood, semen and vaginal secretions,” he said.

The World Health Organisation says viral hepatitis B and C are major health challenges, affecting 325 million people globally.  They are root causes of liver cancer, leading to 1.34 million deaths every year.

“Hepatitis B and C are chronic infections that may not show symptoms for a long period, sometimes years or decades. At least 60 per cent of liver cancer cases are due to late testing and treatment of viral hepatitis B and C. Low coverage of testing and treatment is the most important gap to be addressed in order to achieve the global elimination goals by 2030,” say the agency.

Findings shows that the virus could have mild or no symptoms however experts prompts the government to highlight the need for education about its symptoms, which include the disease progresses, chronic hepatitis can lead to progressive liver failure, swelling of the lower extremities, confusion, and blood in the faeces or vomit, dark urine, itchy skin, yellow skin, whites of the eyes, and tongue.

Larne Yusuf, a medical practitioner based in Lagos said that efforts should be made to enhance public education about improving sanitation, hygiene practices and food safety.

“Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, which if left untreated can be life threatening. It can be prevented and controlled, though recovery might take a little time. But it is also advisable that people get vaccinated against the virus,” says Yusuf.

Yusuf said Hepatitis C is a contagious, it is the most common blood-borne disease and most people with hepatitis C do not realise that they have it.

“In Nigeria the prevalence of hepatitis virus infection is high and is worsened by lack of awareness, late diagnosis and treatment leading to increasing incidences of liver problems and deaths,” he added.

The following precautions could prevent likely infection of the disease which may include general hygiene, washing hands with soap after using the toilet.

Eat fruit and raw vegetables if you are sure they have been properly washed, Practice safe sex using condoms and avoid multiple sex partners and also get a vaccine for hepatitis before travelling to places where may be endemic.

However, Hepatitis A and C are curable, but hepatitis B is only preventable by vaccine. A cure is still under development, according to study.



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