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Lack of awareness drives rise in hepatitis B cases

Update: March, 13/2013 - 10:02
A child in the southern province of Binh Duong receives a hepatitis B vaccine. Doctors said that vaccination can help control the disease effectively. — VNA/VNS Photo Duong Ngoc

HA NOI (VNS)— The number of people suffering from the hepatitis B virus (HBV) in Viet Nam is on the rise, with the majority being hospitalised when their condition becomes serious, the chairman of the Viet Nam Association for the Study of Liver Diseases Dinh Quy Lan has said.

According to their latest statistics, last year on average 35 people were diagnosed with hepatitis B every day, double the number recorded in 2011.

At present 20 per cent of the total population in the country have suffered from the virus, with 40 per cent of patients facing a risk of developing liver cancer.

"The disease is dangerous and the cost of treatment is great, however, residents can still act to prevent the disease," said Lan.

Patients can spend anything between 60-200 million (US$2,850-9,520) per year for a course of treatment, which often lasts for two years.

A 29-year-old woman from the northern port city of Hai Phong, who wished to remain anonymous, discovered that she had the virus when she was in the seventh month of her pregnancy.

"Doctors said that I had to use medication to control the virus immediately otherwise it would endanger my life and the life of my baby," she said. She was shocked when she received the diagnosis as she had not displayed any symptoms before and could not think of how she caught the virus.

Lan said that HBV is often transmitted through blood when people share things such as a tooth brush or a syringe with others. It can also be spread through unprotected sexual intercourse.

The number of patients increased last year because the number of heroin addicts and prostitutes rose by 12,900 and 4,600 respectively, he said.

Meanwhile, detecting the disease remains very difficult as the symptoms are not immediately apparent.

"Symptoms include tiredness, loss of appetite, struggle sleeping and unusually yellow urine. Often, people put these down to stress or hard work and do not go to hospital," said Lan.

It is only obvious that something serious is wrong when the disease moves to the next stage and they get yellow skin and eyes and their stomach becomes bloated.

The problems are exacerbated by the fact that there is very little education about prevention and self-diagnosis of the virus and unlike for other diseases, the country does not have a specific programme to stop HBV.

Only 25 per cent of new-borns receive the vaccination on their first day after birth despite the vaccine needing to be injected as soon as possible for the best effect.

"Spreading information about the disease and how it can be prevented is essential," argued Lan.

Babies, medical workers and employees in rehabilitation centres should be vaccinated as a matter of priority, while people who have not suffered from hepatitis B, especially if they are under 18, should also be inoculated.

In order to publicise the disease's dangers, the Viet Nam Association for the Study of Liver Diseases has organised a contest based around hepatitis study from January 23 to April 30 this year.

Questions for the contest are available on the association's website at www.vasld.vn.

The awards ceremony will be announced in July.

Around 10,000 people in the country die every year from cirrhosis complications and liver cancer, according to the association. — VNS


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