Shubha, 37, (name changed) regrets not getting herself tested for the hepatitis B virus.
When she was 32 years old, Shubha tested positive for the virus during a routine check-up during her second pregnancy. By then, she had had already transmitted the virus to her first daughter.
“I was only 23 years old when I first got pregnant. Doctors did not advise hepatitis B testing. But when I was pregnant a second time, I got myself tested and the report was positive,” said Shubha.
Now her 14-year-old first born is at the risk of developing chronic liver disease or liver cancer. Shubha is on treatment to control damage caused to her liver by the virus.
Despite being a preventable disease, there is a steady rise in the number of hepatitis B cases being reported in Mumbai. According to data released by the Praja Foundation, a non-profit organisation, the number of hepatitis B cases in the city rose from 444 in 2009-10, to 547 in 2010-11 and 931 in 2011-12.
“Though the government of India supplies hepatitis B vaccines free of cost, there is little awareness among parents to administer this vaccine to their child,” said Dr Samir Shah, hepatologist, Jaslok Hospital. He added that an estimated 50% of newborns are not vaccinated.
“Hepatitis is a silent disease as the liver damage occurs gradually and is often diagnosed once the damage is irreparable. Hepatitis B and C are major causes of liver cancer, liver transplantation and even death,” said Dr Tarun Gupta, gastroenterologist from Hinduja HealthCare Surgical, Khar.
“Adults should also get vaccinated as it has a lifelong efficacy if administered before the age of 40. It is a preventable condition and hence people should get screened for hepatitis. If the report is negative, they should immediately get themselves vaccinated. Once diagnosed with hepatitis B, you cannot completely eliminate the virus from the body. The treatment will only control the damage,” said Dr Viral Patrawala, gastroenterologist at Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital, Powai.
At present, Shubha spends about Rs 4 lakh annually for her weekly injections. “If I had tested earlier, my daughter would have been saved from the ordeal of being a hepatitis patient,” she said.