Hepatitis takes a toll on Vietnam

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  Posters for World Hepatitis Day. The World Health Organization has said that nearly 99 percent of drug users in Vietnam have hepatitis C, and 90 percent of newborns with hepatitis B-positive mothers in Vietnam also have the virus.

Vietnam has around 20 million people infected with hepatitis B and C, making it one of the Western Pacific's nine hepatitis hotspots.

The disease is the main reason hundreds of thousands of people die from liver cancer and liver cirrhosis here every year.

Officials warned at a recent conference that the condition was a heavy burden on the country and people's awareness was still low.

Doctor Dinh Quy Lan, chairman of Vietnam Hepatic Association, told the conference on World Hepatitis Day that around 12-16 million people, or around 20 percent of the country's population, are infected with hepatitis B and 4.5 million people with hepatitis C.

"Most liver cirrhosis cases, around 80 percent, are caused by chronic hepatitis B and C," he told Nhan Dan newspaper.

Doctors said the condition is expensive and often must also be treated for a lifetime.

"Each patient of hepatitis B has to spend between VND2.5-3.5 million for treatment every month, while hepatitis C patients spend VND60-200 million a year each.

So it costs the country around VND660 trillion (US$31.7 billion) a year for treatments related to the two viruses," Lan said.

He said some hepatitis cases in Vietnam were caused by blood infusions or sharing syringes with infected people, but most cases were by birth and unprotected sex.

The World Health Organization has said that nearly 99 percent of drug users in Vietnam have hepatitis C; 90 percent of newborns of hepatitis B mothers in Vietnam also have the virus; and liver cancer is the second leading cause of death in Vietnamese men.

A survey by Vietnam health authorities found that the rate of children under age ten with hepatitis B in Vietnam has been reduced from 15 percent to 2.5 percent over the last ten years.

But that does not mean children have been given enough attention.

Only half of newborns received hepatitis B vaccinations on the first day after birth in 2011. The rate was 37 percent as of mid-August this year, said Nguyen Tran Hien, chairman of the National Vaccination Program.

Fabio Mesquita, a senior consultant on HIV at the office of World Health Organization in Vietnam, said the government should prioritize national policies that diagnose and treat hepatitis B and C, to prevent further deaths.

Hepatitis B and C, which is transmitted via blood, often don't cause symptoms until a long time after the transmission. Sometimes people don't fall sick until ten years after they were infected.

Doctor Pham Hoang Phiet, chairman of Ho Chi Minh City Liver and Gall Association , said tests are an "essential" part off controlling hepatitis B.

He said most people do not recognize anything until their liver is severely damaged, which means they have to pay a lot for relatively ineffective treatment.

But having a blood test for hepatitis viruses is still not convenient for many people, especially those in remote areas.

More than 500 million people are infected with hepatitis worldwide (one of every 12 people in the world) and the disease kills more than one million people every year, according to the WHO.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HEPATITIS B AND C

"¢ While there is a vaccine that protects against hepatitis B infection, there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C

"¢ Both viruses can be contracted though blood-to-blood contact

"¢ Hepatitis B is more infectious than hepatitis C and can also be spread through saliva, semen and vaginal fluid

"¢ In the case of hepatitis B, infection can occur through having unprotected sex with an infected person. Please note that this is much rarer in the case of hepatitis C

"¢ While unlikely, it is possible to contract hepatitis B through kissing. You cannot contract hepatitis C through kissing.

"¢ Neither virus is easily spread through everyday contact. You cannot get infected with hepatitis B or C by shaking hands, coughing or sneezing, or by using the same toilet. There are different treatments for the two viruses. While treatment can control chronic hepatitis B, it can often cure hepatitis C

"¢ Even if treatment is not an option for you, you can do something about your disease. A healthy lifestyle is important. Alcohol, smoking, eating fatty foods, being overweight or extreme dieting (eating no food at all) may worsen your liver disease. Therefore, try to avoid all alcohol, stop smoking, eat a low fat diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and reduce your weight if necessary

Hepatitis B

The hepatitis B virus is highly infectious approximately 50-100 times more infectious than HIV. In nine out of ten adults, acute hepatitis B infection will go away on its own in the first six months. However, if the virus becomes chronic, it may cause liver cirrhosis and liver cancer after up to 40 years, but in some cases as little as five years after diagnosis.

The hepatitis B virus is transmitted between people through contact with the blood or other body fluids (i.e. saliva, semen and vaginal fluid) of an infected person. Although not all people will show any signs of the virus, those that do may experience the following symptoms:

"¢ Flu-like symptoms

"¢ Fatigue

"¢ Nausea

"¢ Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)

"¢ Stomach ache

"¢ Diarrhoea/dark urine/bright stools

"¢ Aching joints

Unlike hepatitis C, there is a vaccine that can prevent infection. If you think you are at risk, you should get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is different from hepatitis B in that the virus more frequently stays in the body for longer than six months, and therefore becomes chronic. Four out of five people develop a chronic infection, which may cause cirrhosis and liver cancer after 1530 years. There are approximately 170 million people chronically infected with hepatitis C worldwide. In 2000, the WHO estimated that between three and four million people are newly infected every year.

Hepatitis C is mainly spread through blood-to-blood contact and, similarly to hepatitis B, there are often no symptoms but if they are present can include:

"¢ Flu-like symptoms

"¢ Fatigue

"¢ Nausea

"¢ Aching muscles and joints

"¢ Anxiety and depression

"¢ Poor concentration

"¢ Stomach ache

"¢ Loss of appetite

"¢ Dark urine/bright stools

(WWW.WORLDHEPATITISALLIANCE.ORG)

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