Did you know that hepatitis B and C can cause liver disease
In honor of World Hepatitis Day on July 28, gastroenterologist and hepatology specialist DR TAN POH SENG sheds light on viral hepatitis and what you can do to prevent this type of hepatitis disease. liver.
How serious is liver disease?
The liver is an incredible organ, with over 500 functions, including digestion and the elimination of toxins from the body; we simply cannot live without it. It’s the largest internal organ and even has the unique ability to regenerate if a part has been cut out.
But, while it can repair itself to some extent when damaged, there are many ways liver disease can lead to long-term problems – right up to the point of no return. In fact, liver disease is a major health problem worldwide, with hundreds of millions of people affected in various forms. Terrible complications of long-term liver disease include life-threatening liver hardening (cirrhosis), liver cancer and liver failure – which together account for more than two million annual deaths worldwide.
While some liver diseases are caused by drugs or excessive alcohol consumption, others are caused by viruses, with hepatitis B and C infections being the main culprits of liver disease worldwide.
In Singapore alone, about three to four percent of local residents carry the hepatitis B virus. The prevalence of hepatitis C virus is much less common, at about 0.1 to 0.2 percent.
How is viral hepatitis transmitted?
Hepatitis B and C viruses can be transmitted through the blood or body fluids of an infected person. Sometimes a cluster of hepatitis B or C infections is found within the same household. This is mainly due to the fact that an infected mother can transmit the virus to her child during childbirth, or cross infection occurs between spouses.
However, it is important to note that hepatitis B and C viruses are not transmitted by breathing the same air, shaking hands, hugging or sharing food with an infected person.
What are the signs to look for?
Hepatitis B and C infections are sometimes called the “silent killers” because the majority of patients show no symptoms in the early stages of infection. These viruses usually cause liver damage over a long period of time, eventually leading to liver weakening and liver cirrhosis, which can increase the risk of liver cancer.
Symptoms of severe liver damage include jaundice, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, swelling in the legs or abdomen, vomiting blood or bloody stools.
How to treat viral hepatitis?
Fortunately, there are very effective and well-tolerated oral tablet treatments with minimal side effects for hepatitis B or C infection. Hepatitis B vaccines are also readily available and provide excellent protection against the virus. for uninfected people. In fact, universal Hepatitis B vaccination for all newborns has been in place in Singapore since 1987. This has significantly reduced the cases of Hepatitis B among our younger population.
For patients who have developed liver failure at the time of diagnosis, liver transplantation may be an option to cure them when all other therapies fail.
Of course, prevention is better than cure. Hepatitis infection should be detected as early as possible so that active treatment can be started immediately to prevent further deterioration in liver health.
How to prevent viral hepatitis?
Since early liver disease is “silent”, the challenge really lies in early detection. As the saying goes, “prevention is better than cure”! We should all take a proactive approach to our health and have a liver test done once every one to two years.
PS Tan Digestive and Hepatic Center
#16-02 Mount Elizabeth Medical Center, 3 Mount Elizabeth
6235 8233 | drtanpohseng.com
This article first appeared in the July 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can buy the latest issue or subscribeso you never miss a copy!
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