Raghav Shinde (name changed) came to the doctor’s clinic complaining of a severe abdominal pain, joint pain, fatigue and fever about a year ago. For someone in their early 50’s, this pain was unbearable. When he met Dr Ravi Mohanka at Global Hospital, he was diagnosed with end-stage of liver cirrhosis. On further testing, Shinde was detected with Hepatitis C, which was sexually transmitted to him.
“Out of the patients who come for liver transplant, as many as 20% have hepatitis C that is transmitted sexually. Shinde’s wife was also tested and found to be hepatitis C positive. Unlike Raghav, she didn’t need a transplant,” said Dr Mohanka, Liver Transplant Surgeon at Global Hospital and visiting surgeon at KEM hospital, Mumbai.
Hepatitis C is commonly spread through a variety of reasons. “Hepatitis C is mostly transmitted by blood, unsafe injection practices or IV drug abuse. Awareness amongst everyone is important in order to prevent such transmissions,” said Dr Samir Shah, Hepatology Director at Global Hospital, Parel.
Given the little awareness that we have about Hepatitis C, doctors say there is a lot to be known. “There is very little awareness when it comes to transmission of Hepatitis C sexually. Hepatitis C is more infective that HIV. It is also because of the very little knowledge that we have, about unprotected sex,” said Dr Somnath Chattopadhyay, liver transplant surgeon at Jupiter Hospital, Thane.
Medication for Hepatitis C is a matter of debate among doctors. “Until 2002, we didn’t have a proper medication. Post which, till 2015, we started having these injections that would have to be taken weekly for about a year. However, they had their set of drawbacks. But the new ones now are perfectly affordable as well as effective,” added Dr Chattopadhyay.
Furthermore, some doctors say that current tablets which are available to cure Hepatitis C are much more effective. “These injections didn’t suit Shinde at all. In fact, he was cured purely by the tablets post liver transplant. Currently, the injections have been replaced by four tablets alone,” said Dr Mohanka.
In western countries, a tablet would roughly cost about $1000. which needs to be consumed for three months. This would roughly mean that they cost around Rs 5,770,125. In India, the same tablets are available for about Rs 70,000. We are known to be one of the foremost countries where these medicines are available at an affordable cost,” explained Dr Mohanka.
Facts about Hepatitis C (Source: WHO)
The hepatitis C virus is a blood-borne virus and the most common modes of infection are through exposure to small quantities of blood.
Globally, an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C infection.
A significant number of those who are chronically infected will develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Antiviral medicines can cure over 95% of persons with hepatitis C infection, thereby reducing the risk of death from liver cancer and cirrhosis, but access to diagnosis and treatment is low.
There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C; however, research in this area is on-going.
What the WHO report says?
The World Health organization (WHO) reports that around 6-12 million people are chronically infected with Hepatitis C in India. The WHO report, updated in 2017, says that the blood-borne disease is transmitted through a variety of reasons, sex being one of them.
While it is true that close intimacy between two partners may lead to the spread of Hepatitis C, it is not spread through breast milk, sharing food and water with an infected person or by casual intimacy such as hugging or kissing, claimed the report.