Yesterday I couldn’t make it to my blog. I came back very late. It was 10.30 pm and I was exhausted. I had a long day’s work. On Thursdays I usually do consultancy for a private enterprise after my normal work. After a quick bath, a coffee sip and a light snack I rushed to Quatre Bornes. It’s about 15 minutes’ drive from where I live. I had to be at the Gold Crest Hotel by seven to attend a talk on hepatitis awareness in the context of World Safety Day which is celebrated on 28 April every year for quite some years now. It was organized by a pharmaceutical company in collaboration with the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health Management (Mauritius) of which I am a member.
I really didn’t feel like approaching my computer after a copious and relatively late dinner served following the presentation made by three eminent doctors in the field of virology and occupational health.
So what did I learn? I must confess that I had a very superficial view of hepatitis. I took it for granted, like any other disease that infects, affects and then leaves after a certain period. But it’s more than that, as I learnt that it can be a deadly disease.
By now you should be asking yourself (unless you already know about it) what the hell hepatitis is. Ho does it affect people? Are we all at risk? What are the symptoms? Can it be prevented? Don’t worry folks; I’ll give you a feed back of the talk, if you can follow me. Just bear with me.
Well, hepatitis is an inflammatory disease of the liver, caused by a virus. Different kinds of the virus cause different types of hepatitis, namely hepatitis A, B, C, D, E. The most common are hepatitis A and B. They are different diseases caused by different viruses and different modes of transmission, although they are both characterized by the development of what is known as jaundice if the condition persists. But hepatitis B is more dangerous and may even develop into liver cancer. I couldn’t imagine it’s 100 times more infectious than the Human Immune-deficiency Virus (HIV).
The main mode of transmission of hepatitis A is by the fecal-oral route from an infected person. It may be excreted in the saliva. It is also spread through blood (for example by contaminated blood transfusion) or by the use of contaminated syringes and needles. If you drink or swim in water contaminated by fecal matter, or consume contaminated food which has been handled by an unaware infected food handler with poor hygiene, or eat raw food like salads, cold meat and fruit handled by unwashed (contaminated) hands, then you may be at risk. Don’t take shellfish for granted. If they’ve been harvested from dirty water they may be contaminated and put you at risk.
Hepatitis B is transmitted in practically the same way as HIV; by personal contact with an infected person, sexual contact or contact with infected body fluids or contaminated blood, by use of infected syringes or needles. Beware if you are fond of acupuncture, body piercing or tattooing. Whereas HIV is not transmitted through bites, hepatitis B is. If you are bitten by an infected person, you may get infected too. Skin conditions like abrasions, eczema and bites have also been found to be common routes of transmission.
You may also be at risk of hepatitis if you work in sewage plants or emergency services, or if you are a health care worker, day care centre worker, doctor, nurse, dentist, food handler or you work in a food handling industry or prison. Dialysis patients and frequent travelers are also prone, reports have shown.
If you’ve been infected you’ll feel feverish, nauseated, unwell, and experience lack of appetite and abdominal discomfort. Jaundice may develop some days later. The virus is very resistant and able to survive in water and food from about 12 weeks to about 10 months.
The most effective preventive measure is vaccination, although safe and good hygiene practices are essential in curbing the spread.