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Hepatitis B, C on the rise in northeast

GUWAHATI: As the number of injecting drug users in the northeast goes up, the incidence of Hepatitis B and C is increasing rapidly in the region. About four to five per cent of people in the northeast are suffering from Hepatitis B, while another 1.98 per cent is infected with Hepatitis C.

The incidence of Hepatitis B is high in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, while Hepatitis C is high in Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur.

The head of the gastroenterology department of Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), B D Goswami, said, "Hepatitis B and C usually spread through blood and sex. Among all hepatitis viruses, Hepatitis B and C are most dangerous and more infectious than HIV. About one-third of all the cases of Hepatitis come from an unknown source which means that one needs not be in a high-risk group to be infected with a hepatitis virus."

He said the incidence of both Hepatitis viruses are increasing rapidly due to increasing number of intravenous drug users. The drug users usually share needles for injecting drugs and the virus gets transmitted through blood.

"Chronic Hepatitis can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is the most common reason for liver transplantation in our country," he added.

The symptoms of acute Hepatitis B are fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting, abdominal pain, joint pain and jaundice. However, people with chronic Hepatitis have no symptoms. The symptoms of both Hepatitis B and C are similar to acute Hepatitis B.

Goswami said change in lifestyle does not have much impact as the two diseases are caused through blood transfusion and due to multiple sex partners.

"The best way to prevent hepatitis B is by getting the hepatitis B vaccine. The hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective and is usually given in three-four shots over six months. Awareness among people is very low. There is no any vaccine for hepatitis C. The GMCH has undertaken a study on the prevalence of hepatitis B in the region. The study is being funded by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR). Earlier a study on hepatitis C was carried out by the GMCH under the ICMR for which blood samples of people from the entire region was collected," he said.