Health authorities say hepatitis is a silent killer (Pic. SABC)

JOHANNESBURG – The World Health Organisation says viral hepatitis is increasingly becoming the leading cause of death in the world.

SABC News quotes the TB-HIV Care Association Strategic Advisor as saying hepatitis is a silent killer because patients often do not know they are infected until it is too late.

DR ANDREW SCHEIBE says they will hold events ahead of World Hepatitis Day later this month in order to assess SOUTH AFRICA’s response to the disease.

He says because things are not on the agenda or spoken about often, there is not a lot of emphasis on doing research and getting an understanding of the numbers.

DR SCHEIBE says their study aimed to try and get a sense of what the picture is in the SOUTH AFRICAN context, for people they know could be at risk of getting hepatitis.

He says his team looks specifically at hepatitis B and C to get a sense of whether or not there is a problem and, if so, to inform the services the government and stakeholders should provide to move towards the illumination of the disease.

SABC News says DR SCHEIBE has called on people born before 1994 to test for hepatitis, because vaccines were not available by then.

He also says they are experiencing some problems with hepatitis C because the medication is yet to be registered in SOUTH AFRICA.

DR SCHEIBE says in terms of hepatitis C, it is a bit more challenging because many of the people who are at risk or living with the disease are marginalised from society.

Many of them may be living on the streets, and it is particularly people who use drugs and others who inject drugs, who often fail to get treatment for hepatitis C.

The medications available for hepatitis C are still waiting to be registered by the SOUTH AFRICAN regulatory authorities.

However, DR SCHEIBE says the medicine will be available in certain sectors once it becomes registered, but cost is still a major factor.

Medical experts say hepatitis is inflammation of the liver tissue, a condition where some people have no symptoms and others develop yellow discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes, poor appetite, vomiting, tiredness, abdominal pain, or diarrhoea.

They say the disease may be temporary, which is acute, or long term, which is chronic, depending on whether it lasts for less than or more than SIX months.

Acute hepatitis can sometimes resolve on its own, progress to chronic hepatitis, or rarely result in acute liver failure; while the chronic form may progress to scarring of the liver, liver failure, or liver cancer over time.

Viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis worldwide, but others include heavy alcohol use, certain medications, toxins, other infections, autoimmune diseases, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis./Sabanews/cam

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