Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, which is caused by a variety of agents like virus, bacteria, drugs, infection, etc. According to World Health Organization (WHO), viral hepatitis is the eighth highest cause of mortality globally. Approximately 257 million individuals are chronically infected with hepatitis B and 71 million with hepatitis C. Pakistan and Egypt share 80% of the disease burden in the region with an estimate of 12 million people suffering from hepatitis B or C in Pakistan alone.
Before we can fully understand what hepatitis is and how the virus enters our body, we need to know a little about the liver and its function so that we can look at better treatment options depending on which type of hepatitis we have. We can also prevent some forms of hepatitis through immunization and precautions.
The liver is located in the right upper area of our abdomen. It performs many vital functions that affect metabolism, including converting food into energy by consuming fat, producing chemicals that help clot the blood, produce a protein called albumin, which helps protect our plasma from leaking out of the blood vessels, to help clean the blood from harmful toxins, bile production, which is essential for digestion and filtering of toxins from our body, excretion of bilirubin (a product of broken-down red blood cells), activation of enzymes, which are specialized proteins essential to body functions, and storage of glycogen (a form of sugar), minerals, and vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Thus, it is carrying around enormous tasks all day long throughout our lifetime to help keep the body healthy. Therefore, if you find any of the above mentioned not functioning properly, you already know something’s wrong with your liver.
Viral hepatitis (A, B, C, D and E) is caused by five types of viruses , and out of these the first three are prevalent in Pakistan. Hepatitis A is an acute, short-term disease, while hepatitis B, C, and D are most likely to become ongoing and chronic. Hepatitis E is usually acute but can be particularly dangerous in pregnant women. All of these viruses are introduced into our bodies through poor hygiene, therefore, we can prevent them by adopting simple precautionary measures.
Viruses are living proteins that need DNA to thrive on, which is why when they enter our body they start wreaking havoc wherever they intend to lodge. The hepatitis virus enters our body through the mouth, blood or damaged skin with exposed underlying tissues. When we eat from dirty dishes or drink unfiltered water, the virus enters our body from the stomach and is absorbed into our blood along with food particles. It can also enter our blood directly through infected needles, blades, knives, etc., used in piercing, shaving, dental procedures or surgeries and less commonly through blood transfusions or dialysis.
Once inside, it swims through the blood and lodges itself in the liver. Here it starts unpacking its suitcases to incorporate itself in the host and starts to multiply. It starts its own family and colonizes liver cells spreading in every direction. This is where the signs of liver damage or failure start to appear. Patients become lethargic, have poor appetite and start vomiting because they are unable to digest food. Since, the liver cannot cleanse the blood, so the excess toxins settle on the skin and eyes giving them a yellow tinge. In severe cases, it can cause liver failure or cancer, leading to death.
So now that we know how the virus enters our body and damages our liver, it’s easy to figure ways to control its spread and even prevent it from entering our body in the first place. Here are a few easy steps that can help you in its prevention.
• Always use clean dishes.
• Wash your hands thoroughly paying special attention to cleaning the nails.
• Consume boiled or filtered water.
• Consume well-cooked meals.
• Make sure to use fresh, disposable blades and needles for cutting and shaving.
• Make sure surgeries and dental procedures are carried out under hygienic conditions.
• Make sure that blood has been screened for infections before transfusions.
• Notify and isolate patients suffering from active hepatitis so that their treatment can be started as soon as possible.
Hepatitis a very common viral infection in Pakistan. Remember that it is not impossible to prevent this disease. With proper precautionary measures and awareness we can stop its spread. HH
The writer is a Classified Medical Specialist.
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