'IDU, unsafe tattooing pushing up cases of Hep-C infection'
Source: The Sangai Express

Imphal, June 28 2017: A potentially serious infection of the liver that can lead to cirrhosis and even liver cancer, Hepatitis C is a significant health concern in Imphal and adjoining areas.

High intravenous drug use and needle sharing among drug users is a major contributor to the Hepatitis C burden in the area .

Underlining the heavy burden of chronic hepatitis C in the State, Dr K Romeo Singh, Senior Gastroenterologist at RIMS, Imphal says the rising rates of drug abuse, aided by drugs being supplied from neighbouring countries is a significant cause for the high rates of hepatitis C in Manipur and other North Eastern States .

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by the blood-borne hepatitis C virus (HCV).

While globally it affects nearly 130-150 million people, in India it affects 1 in every 100 people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In North Eastern States however, the incidence is higher than the national average .

"Hepatitis C is a contagious disease that spreads through blood.

The most common cause in young adults in our region is the transmission through the sharing of syringes in intravenous drug users.

We encounter many cases where patients come in contact with HCV through an infected needle.

Teenagers and young adults are most vulnerable to get addicted, especially when the drugs are in abundant supply.

Practices of tattooing and ear piercing are also very common in our area; and use of unsafe needles in these procedures also contributes to the spread of the disease.

Factors such as unscreened blood transfusions, surgical procedures, and injections are the other major contributing causes," said Dr K Romeo Singh .

Secondary causes of the spread of Hepatitis C include sharing personal-care items such as toothbrushes and razors with a person infected with the virus.

This is why the infection is also spread through the sharing of razors and shaving kits among clients by barbers.

The infection may also get transmitted through unprotected sex.

Aggravating the threat is the fact that unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine yet to prevent hepatitis C.Approximately 5,00,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver diseases .

Another worrisome part is the high rate of co-infections with HIV.

People who are HIV+ are more likely to get Hepatitis C, and the simultaneous existence of two serious infections significantly impacts the health status of the patients .

"A lot of elderly patients are also suffering from Hepatitis C.Since most elderly people are not drug users, we need to study in more detail as to what is the route of transmission among this section of population.

Probably, unsafe blood transfusions or hospital acquired infections during surgical procedures of hospital stays may be responsible," explained Dr Singh .

The first step to eradicate this problem is awareness of the problem and its ways of transmission.

Today, most people get detected incidentally, like when pre-operative tests are done, or when they go to donate blood.

Ideally, everyone should get tested.

People can also ask for this as a part of routine check-ups .

"There needs to be awareness programmes in the State to bring about needle sensitivity, teach people about the precautions needed during drug usage.

We need to conduct more researches to understand the sporadic nature of this virus affecting different spectrums of life.

Today, the drugs we have are affordable, of a shorter duration than before and almost 100% effective if the infection is detected before it begins to affect the liver badly.

Once the knowledge of prevention and cure is spread, we can effectively eradicate hepatitis C," said Dr Singh .

Globally 130-150 million people are infected with hepatitis C.Initial symptoms of the infection resemble that of the flu .

However, a developed case will have symptoms like light-coloured stool, dark-yellow-coloured urine, jaundiced eyes and skin along with a feeling of nausea, drowsiness and fatigue.

In fact, 55-85% of patients with HCV go on to develop chronic hepatitis C infection, as per the World Health Organization (WHO) .

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