…virus is 100 times more infectious than HIV/AIDS
About 20million Nigerians (one out of every twelve Nigerians) already infected with hepatitis B and C, are unaware of their status and at risk of dying from liver diseases including cancer of the liver, experts have warned.
At a symposium to mark the 2016 World Hepatitis Day, by the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, (NIMR) in Lagos, experts called for screening as a measure to detecting and eliminating the deadly virus.
In his speech, the outgoing Director General of NIMR, Prof. Innocent Ujah, explained that the virus is 100 times more infectious than HIV/AIDS because it can spreads more easily and can survive for a long time outside the body “If you leave it on the table, seven days after, it will still be active and can infect someone, unlike HIV/AIDS”, he said.
Prof. Ujah, who was represented by Director of Research, Clinical Science Division, NIMR, Dr. Nkiruka Odunukwe, said viral hepatitis is currently the 7th leading cause of death globally and is a major public health problem.
“Just as it has been our practice in the past four years, today, NIMR is marking the World Hepatitis Day as our contribution towards the global goal to eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. To achieve elimination, greater awareness, increased diagnosis and key interventions including universal vaccination, blood and injection safety, harm reduction and treatment are all needed.
“This means every activity that addresses viral hepatitis is a step towards elimination”, he said.
In addition, Deputy Director Research, and Head Human Laboratory, NIMR, Dr Rosemary Audu, stressed that screening is the key to elimination. According to her, only about 5 per cent of people infected know that they are actually infected so most people are unaware they have the virus until it is too late. “People need to go for screening to know if they have the virus. Once you screen and is found infected, you should go for vaccination. Until you are vaccinated, you are still at risk. For the symptoms, people normally just assume it is malaria. You could have yellowish eye, feverish condition, abdominal pain, but if you don’t go to see your clinician, you might just die”, she said.
Meanwhile, The Chairperson of the occasion, Prof. Funmi Leshi, declared that about 8 to 11 per cent of Nigerians are infected hence the need for us to work towards elimination according to the theme of the 2016 world hepatitis day.
Prof. Leshi, who was represented by Dr. Onyekwere Charlse, Head of Gastroenterology and Herpetology Unit, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), said some of the preventive measures include; having safe blood transfusion, safe injection, going for screening, not sharing sharp objects, vaccination and making treatment accessible.
For mode of transmission, he said the virus can spread through contact with body fluid either sexually or by sharing sharp object.