What is World Hepatitis Day, History and Significance: In terms of disease severity, time recovery, duration of hospitalization or treatment responses there is no major difference in patients who suffer hepatitis and COVID-19 with those who only suffer COVID-19.
By Dr Tushar Tayal
Amidst the global pandemic, World Hepatitis Day is a great opportunity to increase public awareness about the diseases, screening and vaccination along with some precautionary measures for patients who have contracted hepatitis.
According to National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Viral Hepatitis, A through E, is a major public health concern in India. The country has ‘intermediate to high endemicity’ for Hepatitis B surface antigen and around 40 million chronic Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) infected people. Chronic hepatitis B can gradually damage the liver over the years, increasing the risk of liver cancer.
Undoubtedly, COVID-19 pandemic increased the challenges for patients suffering from hepatitis. Not only did they face delayed appointments, they had to also adjust to telemedicine along with facing the trouble to navigate health information related to COVID-19 and the effectiveness of vaccines for people living with hepatitis B and liver disease.
In the beginning of the year, only 4% of India’s population was fully vaccinated for COVID-19, largely due to the vaccine hesitancy fuelled by lack of trust, fear of side-effects, and concerns regarding safety and effectiveness of the vaccines. World Health Organization (WHO) recognised vaccine hesitancy as one of the 10 leading threats to health, even in the pre-COVID-19 era.
When the world is facing a global pandemic, it is important to address some of the key concerns that patients with hepatitis might face.
Are hepatitis patients at an increased risk of COVID-19 infection?
In terms of disease severity, time recovery, duration of hospitalization or treatment responses there is no major difference in patients who suffer hepatitis and COVID-19 with those who only suffer COVID-19. However, there are cases where patients with hepatitis C or liver cancer are at a higher risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19. The risk for acute COVID-19 symptoms depends on the level of liver damaging or cirrhosis, a person has.
So, it is highly important for patients suffering from hepatitis to talk to their doctor who are treating them for COVID-19. The doctor can then closely monitor liver function and liver injury.
What do we know about COVID-19 vaccine?
The COVID-19 vaccines help in building an immune response to protect against future COVID-19 virus infections. It does not eliminate the risk of getting the virus but reduces its effects.
Research and studies by WHO confirm that COVID-19 vaccines are as good as, if not better than, other vaccines that are routinely given around the world to prevent infectious diseases. These vaccines are safe with a few mild to moderate side effects in some people.
Do hepatitis patients need to follow extra precautions against COVID-19?
Precautions to be followed by a patient with hepatitis while taking Covid 19 vaccine are wearing a mask when going out, washing hands at regular intervals, maintaining social distance and getting vaccinated
Can hepatitis patients get COVID-19 vaccination?
Yes, the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and recommended to patients who have contracted hepatitis. In fact, getting the COVID-19 vaccination is particularly important for people who have underlying medical conditions. People with liver cirrhosis or history of liver transplant or patient with ongoing treatment for hepatitis, should also take the covid 19 vaccination.
But in situations where a person with hepatitis should not get the COVID -19 vaccine are severe allergies to any of the ingredients in the vaccines, may have serious allergic reaction post the first dose and any other chronic medical condition (apart from hepatitis) that could affect how they react to the vaccine
Therefore, it is advisable to speak to a doctor if there are concerns about the safety of the vaccine.
Patients with hepatitis can help reduce their risk of serious complications by getting the COVID-19 vaccine. It is very important to follow the precautions and be aware about their disease in times of pandemic.
(The author is Consultant, Internal Medicine, CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult health experts and medical professionals before starting any therapy or medication. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)