Hepatitis burden on liver health and the importance of early detection

Early detection, timely treatment decisions, and life-long monitoring of patients are the best ammunition against hepatitis.

healthcare revolution, health news, pharma news,
Hepatitis B (HBV) is one of five hepatitis viruses that can cause chronic infections and serious long- term damage to the liver, including cirrhosis and cancer. (File)

By Dr. V Ravi

Hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver is most commonly caused by a viral infection, is a significant public health concern in India. According to the WHO, 65% of people living with chronic hepatitis B and 75% of those with chronic hepatitis C are unaware that they are infected. Left untreated, this can cause serious liver damage with a risk of long-term complications like liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Therefore, it is crucial to detect hepatitis infection early through greater awareness, screening, testing, diagnosis and monitoring to ensure liver health. Hepatitis B (HBV) is one of five hepatitis viruses that can cause chronic infections and serious long-term damage to the liver, including cirrhosis and cancer. Unfortunately, only 10-20% of people living
with chronic hepatitis B receive a proper diagnosis, and 296 million people worldwide live with chronic hepatitis B infections. Hepatitis C (HCV) also has a significant impact on public health, with an estimated 58 million people infected over time. Therefore, it is essential to improve screening, diagnosis, and monitoring to prevent long-term complications.

Early detection, timely treatment decisions, and life-long monitoring of patients are the best ammunition against hepatitis. The diagnosis of hepatitis involves testing for the presence of the virus in the blood. Testing is the only way to detect and determine hepatitis. However, testing and monitoring for hepatitis are complex and expensive, leading to under-diagnosis and high mortality rates. This process can be simplified by using innovative and affordable solutions using molecular diagnostics that reduce the frequency, and complexity and also help to optimize hepatitis B management.

Hepatitis B and C can be diagnosed through a blood test that detects the presence of antigen and/or antibodies against the virus or by testing for the virus’s genetic material (nucleic acid testing or qPCR). The WHO guidelines recommend the use of nucleic acid testing (qPCR) as the preferred strategy for the diagnosis of viremic infections.

HBV qPCR Kits are reliable, highly accurate, and sensitive, and can quantify HBV DNA across most HBV genotypes. By identifying chronic HBV infections, HBV qPCR Kits can shorten the time to decide who to treat or not treat if there is no evidence of cirrhosis, monitor response to treatment, and shorten the time to treatment decision. Current clinical guidelines recommend that patients

infected with hepatitis B should have their HBV DNA level measured at baseline (i.e., prior to starting therapy) and at 3–6-month intervals while receiving antiviral therapy. More frequent testing may be indicated for those patients suspected of having developed resistance to their antiviral therapy.

Similarly, for hepatitis C, HCV qPCR kits can help identify chronic HCV infections. According to WHO estimates, only one in five people with HCV are aware of their infection. Chronic HCV infections often show few signs of infection, which may go unnoticed for decades, causing permanent damage to the liver. Early confirmatory viral load tests using HCV Viral Load qPCR Kit and HBV Viral Load qPCR Kit after screening can pinpoint chronic infections with viral load information for early treatment. This can help eliminate the need for multiple confirmatory tests and reduce the cost, accessibility, and quality challenges of testing for hepatitis. Further, HCV Viral load tests are used during treatment to help determine response. Indeed, currently available HCV drugs are very effective with both high and low viral loads. An undetectable HCV viral load 10-12 weeks after hepatitis C is completed is associated with a cure.

By strengthening diagnostic infrastructure, we can increase access to testing, proper diagnosis, and life-saving treatment, ultimately reducing the burden of hepatitis on liver health. Hepatitis is a silent epidemic and one of the greatest threats to mankind. We must reduce the cost, increase accessibility, and overcome quality challenges of testing to prevent under-diagnosis of chronic patients and high mortality. It is only then that we can work towards the global elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030 1 and ensure best liver health for all.

(The author is a Virologist and Head of Research and Development, Tata Medical and Diagnostics. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult medical experts and health professionals before starting any therapy, medication and/or remedy. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the

Get live Share Market updates and latest India News and business news on Financial Express. Download Financial Express App for latest business news.

First published on: 19-04-2023 at 10:00 IST