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Hepatitis: The silent killer

By Angella Abushedde

Northern Uganda has the highest infection rate at 23%

As the world celebrates the World Hepatitis Day on July 28, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is urging governments, policy makers, health workers and the public to “think again” about this silent killer.  Viral hepatitis is a group of infectious diseases known as Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E and affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide, causing acute and chronic liver disease and killing close to 1.4 million people every year. But hepatitis remains largely ignored or unknown.

Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common. WHO estimates that about 240 million people are chronically infected with Hepatitis B in the world while 150 million people are chronically affected with Hepatitis C. Hepatitis E on the other hand is believed to induce a mortality rate of 20% among pregnant women in their third trimester.


“Hepatitis A and E are typically caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water while hepatitis B, C and D usually occur as a result of blood-to-blood contact with infected body fluids from blood transfusions or invasive medical procedures using contaminated equipment. Hepatitis B and C can also be transmitted through sexual contact, although this is less common with hepatitis C,” says Godfrey Kamoga, a doctor at SAS clinic.

Hepatitis can be spread at from mothers to their babies during birth, through sharing needles or injection drug use, through sexual contact with an infected person, using contaminated and improperly sterilized medical, piercing of tattooing equipment and eating contaminated food.

Although everyone is at risk, people in health care professions, those with many sexual partners, sewage and water treatment workers, intravenous drug users, HIV patients and hemophiliacs who have receive blood clotting factors are more prone to hepatitis.

According to Ministry of Health, northern Uganda has the highest infection rate at 23%, Karamoja with 20%, West Nile at 19%, eastern region with 10% and the central region and Tororo at 7% each.

Signs and symptoms of Hepatitis include muscle and joint pain, high fever, headache, jaundice, depression, diarrhea, loss of appetite, pain in the lower abdomen, dark colored urine, light colored stool and fatigue.

Dr Kamoga advises that to prevent hepatitis people should wash their hands regularly with soap before preparing and eating meals and also avoid sharing personal care items that might have blood on them.  Health care workers are advised to follow the universal blood/fluid precautions and safety when handling needles and other sharp objects.

Dr Kamoga also recommends using condoms if you are having sex with more than one partner to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases including hepatitis and HIV.

However, the best way to prevent hepatitis is with vaccination. However, vaccines are only available against Hepatitis A and B. In 2002, the government of Uganda introduced vaccination among against hepatitis to reduce the prevalence of the disease in babies.

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