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May 09 2010

Experts highlight dangers posed by hepatitis B, C

AMMAN - Hepatitis B and C are the leading causes for cirrhosis of the liver in Jordan and the Middle East, health experts said on Saturday.

Doctors affiliated with Jordan's Friends of Liver Patients Society said alcohol consumption is not the main cause of cirrhosis in the Middle East as in Europe, but hepatitis is, among other diseases.

During a press conference yesterday, Waseem Hamoudi, an internist gastroenterologist and hepatologist, said that although there have been no recent studies on the prevalence of hepatitis in the Kingdom, studies conducted in the 1980s indicated that some 3 to 12 per cent of the population was infected with the disease.

Since 1994, Jordan has witnessed the largest reduction in hepatitis B prevalence in the entire region due to the availability of the hepatitis B vaccine, according to Tareq Qutob, hepatologist and society member.

He noted that the only way to avoid contracting hepatitis C is through personal hygiene, as there is no vaccine for the disease currently.

According to Maisam Akroush, a hepatologist at Prince Hamzah Hospital, the monthly treatment cost for hepatitis B patients is around JD400, while the total cost of hepatitis C treatment ranges from JD400 to JD1,000.

Saturday's press conference was held as part of the society's campaign to mark World Hepatitis Day, observed annually on May 19.

As part of its campaign, the society will organise a walk to raise funds to support the treatment of underprivileged hepatitis patients in the Kingdom, organisers said.

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus. It is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected, according to the US Centres for Disease Control website.

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver and can cause both acute and chronic diseases, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The virus is transmitted through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person - not through casual contact.

About two billion people worldwide have been infected with the virus and about 350 million live with chronic infection. An estimated 600,000 persons die each year due to the acute or chronic consequences of hepatitis B.

Around 25 per cent of adults who become chronically infected during childhood later die from liver cancer or cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) caused by the chronic infection.

The hepatitis B virus, which is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV and represents an occupational hazard for health workers, is preventable with a safe and effective vaccine, according to WHO.

By Khetam Malkawi

© Jordan Times 2010


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