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Hepatitis C: The silent killer

Most people with hepatitis C don’t have symptoms before they are diagnosed.

Hepatitis C kills more people every year than malaria and tuberculosis, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). What makes this disease deadly is the near-absence of visible symptoms. Though 1.5 million people world-over suffer from Hepatitis C, only 20 per cent of them are diagnosed and treated.

Dr D. Nageshwar Reddy, chairman of the Asian Institute of Gastroenterology, explains how increased awareness and better diagnosis can improve patient outcomes.

What is Hepatitis C and how is it caused?
Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver by the Hepatitis C virus. Most people suffering from the disease show no or mild symptoms, which is why it often goes undiagnosed. Persistence of the infection can lead to progressive liver damage, resulting in cirrhosis (a loss of liver function accompanied by the hardening of the liver) or liver cancer.

Hepatitis C is communicated through contact with infected body fluids, most often blood. The virus is transmitted through shared needles, commonly encountered among people who received blood transfusions before 1990, or through sex with an infected person. It can also be transmitted because of unhygienic body piercing and tattooing practices. There is no clear evidence of Hepatitis spreading through shared food and water, casual contact, or by kissing.

What is the estimated number of people suffering from Hepatitis C in India?
Hepatitis C infection is a fairly common disease. It affects nearly 3 per cent of the world’s population. In India, 0.5% — 1.5% of the general population suffers from it, and the numbers can be as high as 10% in the north-eastern states and Punjab.

Doctors diagnose Hepatitis C using two types of test — in the first, the blood is checked for anti-Hepatitis antibodies, and in the second, the blood is checked for virus RNA.

Read on: Hepatitis C: The silent killer

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