This article was last updated on October 7, 2014, at 6:22 pm.
The Hepatology Society of the Philippines (HSP), the leading professional society concerned with liver health and liver-related disease, kicks off a campaign to raise national awareness on Hepatitis B to promote better understanding of the disease that affects one in every seven Filipinos.
Hepatitis B is a viral infection that can cause serious diseases. Maricel de Quiroz-Castro from the World Health Organization Office in the Philippines shares that in the Philippines, it is estimated that Hepatitis B affects about 16.7% 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.
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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.
Note: While one cannot get Hepatitis B from improperly cooked food, "street food" or sharing utensils, you can get the Hepatitis A virus through feces-contaminated food or water. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, "Fruits, vegetables, shellfish, ice, and water are common sources of the disease."
Other sources of the disease is through contact with the stool or blood of an infected person, contact with an object or food that has been due to poor handwashing after using the restroom, and sexual contact with an infected person.
“One of the key steps towards leading the country—and region—to lessen the cases of Filipinos with the disease is spreading awareness,” says Dr. Nick Walsh of the World Health Organization, Office of the Western Pacific Region.
Many Filipinos are not even aware that they can be carriers of the disease. Quite a number of Filipinos only learn that they are infected when they have been diagnosed with liver disease or liver cancer.
“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, President of the Hepatology Society of the Philippines. “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.”
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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 life long 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.