HEALTH “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil”, an added theme to the campaign against hepatitis, opens our eyes to the fact that the disease is being ignored around the world, and it’s time we did our bit to spread awareness

The UN health agency WHO calls it the “silent epidemic”. You suffer a viral infection, your liver gets inflamed and you are down with Hepatitis. It takes five main avatars, labelled alphabetically A, B, C, D and E. These five types should worry us a lot, says the WHO, because of the burden of illness and death they cause and their potential for outbreaks and spread of epidemics. Hepatitis infections lead to 1.4 million deaths every year. A majority of people harbouring the infection are unaware of the ongoing damage leading to irreversible scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), liver failure and liver cancer.

“Hepatitis A and E are food and water-borne infections, while Hepatitis B, C, and D are spread by infected body fluids including blood, by sexual contact, mother-to-child transmission during birth, or by contaminated medical equipment,” says the WHO. Many hepatitis B and C infections show no symptoms until there is severe damage to the liver, making prevention an absolute necessity. “There is urgent need for universal access to immunisation, screening, diagnosis and antiviral therapy,” says Assistant Director-General for Health Security/Environment, Dr. Keiji Fukuda.

What is hepatitis?

“Hepatitis means inflammation (process of damage) of hepatocytes (liver cells),” says Dr. Joy Varghese, Hepatologist and Liver Transplant Physician, Global Hospitals and Health City. Liver cell damage could be caused by virus/drugs/alcohol/medications/excess weight and diabetes, he says. As liver cells lose their function slowly, in the early stages blood tests alone will help to diagnose liver damage; patient will be asymptomatic. When the damage progresses, symptoms appear. The most common are fatigue (tiredness), anorexia (loss of appetite) and jaundice. See a doctor as soon as you detect symptoms, he says, “hepatitis is mostly curable.”

So, prevent it. “A hygienic, healthy diet, vaccination, safe sex, regular exercise and periodic health check-up are the ways,” he says. Check your lifestyle — avoid alcohol, maintain ideal body-weight, say no to a high-carb, high-fat diet. “We are seeing more of liver cancer now,” he adds. “As it does not produce any symptoms at the early stages, most patients approach doctors when the cancer is at an inoperable stage. Thanks to advanced medical technology, liver cancer growth can be controlled.” Non-alcoholics are getting liver disease due to uncontrolled diabetes, excess weight, he warned. “Keep blood sugar under control, check liver function periodically, exercise regularly.”

The campaign

July 28 is World Hepatitis Day. The World Hepatitis Alliance has chosen “This is Hepatitis — Know it. Confront it” as its campaign theme. This theme has seen big success since its launch in 2010 as it focuses on the real-life impact of viral hepatitis, says its website. An added theme “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” tells us that hepatitis is being ignored around the world, and that should change. “Our 2013 posters are now available to download,” it says. “Set up a great campaign.”

You could order soft toy “evil” monkeys and tell people to acknowledge the prevalence of hepatitis.

Meanwhile, WHA will be organising an event to get people from all over the world to mime the actions of the monkeys, to beat the 12,588-people participation Guinness World Record set last year. If you want to get involved, email contact@worldhepatitisalliance.org to see what's going on near you.