The stealthy virus

HBV carrier may eventually end up w/ liver CA

MANY Filipinos are not even aware that they can be carriers of the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) and they only learn that they are infected when they have been diagnosed with liver disease or even liver cancer.

The Hepatology Society of the Philippines (HSP) recently kicked off a campaign to raise national awareness on hepatitis B to promote better understanding of the disease that affects one in every seven Filipinos.

Maricel de Quiroz-Castro from the World Health Organization (WHO) office in the Philippines said that in our country, it is estimated that hepatitis B affects about 16.7 percent of adult Filipinos. Filipinos living with the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) can develop chronic liver disease leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

In the Philippines, hepatitis B accounts for more than two-thirds of all cases of liver cancer – the second leading cancer killer in the country.

While it is known that the transmission of the disease is through blood transfusion, there is very little awareness that the most common way of being infected in the Philippines is through the passing of the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) from mother to child.

Apart from this, many Filipinos still have the mistaken belief that they can get hepatitis B from eating improperly cooked food or by sharing utensils.

“We need to properly make Filipinos aware of the disease if we wish to lower the cases of Hepatitis B in the country,” says Dr. Eternity Labio, HSP president. “As we launch the B-Aware Campaign, we aim to inform and holistically educate Filipinos about the disease so they can gain sufficient knowledge regarding this very common infection, and take action.”

Be tested and vaccinated

Dr. Labio stresses the need for Filipinos to ask their doctor about having themselves tested. Adults who test negative can receive vaccination so they may prevent themselves from getting the infection.

At the same time, parents are reminded to have their infants vaccinated within 24 hours of birth. This vaccine is mandatory under Republic Act 10152 and is free for all infants. Vaccination at birth is the most effective way to prevent the lifelong infection and to prevent liver cancer.

Adults who have tested positive are encouraged to take the necessary steps to prevent transmission of the infection and to prevent liver complications and liver disease. They should ask their doctor if they need treatment, as there are effective medications available for hepatitis B. Availing of these treatments can prevent liver disease and liver cancer.

The HSP recognizes, however, that being aware, tested, and vaccinated are only the first steps in addressing the endemic infection affecting more than 16.7 million adult Filipinos.

Discrimination in workplace

Dr. Labio mentions that due to the lack of proper knowledge on this viral infection, discrimination against people with hepatitis B still occurs, especially in the workplace. While the Department of Labor and Employment has issued a non-discrimination policy on hepatitis B, there is still a lot that needs to be done to make everyone more sensitive.

Chris Munoz from the Yellow Warriors Society of the Philippines echoes this sentiment. “For almost two years interacting with carriers and non-carriers of the HBV, I can say that a lot of Filipinos still don’t know what hepatitis B is all about. People I have encountered still ask how transmission of the virus occurs, how could hepatitis B be managed, is hepatitis B curable, and so much more.”

“Having Filipinos aware of the symptoms, the vaccines and treatments available for hepatitis B only gets the job half-done,” says Dr. Labio. “Beyond the spread of information, more importantly, we want Filipinos to become advocates of our cause.”

Besides changing the negative perception of Filipinos towards people living with HBV, the HSP aims to make Filipinos spread awareness to their friends and families.

The launch of the campaign of the HSP saw support from WHO Office of the Western Pacific Region, WHO office in the Philippines, the Department of Health, and the Yellow Warriors Society of the Philippines. The HSP invites Filipinos to join them to B-Aware, to lead to a hepatitis B-free Philippines.

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VitalSigns Issue 68 Vol. 3, October 1-31, 2014

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