Islamabad-Around 12 million people in the country are suffering from Hepatitis B or C while each year brings about 150,000 new cases, a health expert said on Monday.

Dr Nadeem Iqbal, gastroenterologist at Shifa International Hospital, shared this data on World Hepatitis Day. He said that majority of people caught this infection in healthcare settings without being aware of it. He added that viral hepatitis was the 8th biggest cause of mortality globally and was responsible for an estimated 1.34 million deaths in 2015, a toll comparable to that of HIV and tuberculosis.

Globally, approximately 257 million persons are chronically infected with Hepatitis B and 71 million with Hepatitis C, he said.

At this rate, an estimated 20 million deaths will occur between 2015 and 2030. Worldwide, 300 million people are living with viral hepatitis unaware, he said.

Dr Nadeem said that without finding the undiagnosed and linking them to care, millions will continue to suffer, and lives will be lost.

He also said that the disease was called a silent killer because many patients remained undiagnosed and untreated for many years before developing complications and dying. Major risk factors for transmission of Hepatitis B and C infections include injections, syringe reuse, surgery, improper sterilization of medical devices, blood transfusion, hospitalization and sharing of razors while getting shave at barber shops.

He said that some population groups are highly affected by Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C such as those using drugs through injections and thalassemia patients.

For hepatitis C, high prevalence of infection is reported in children, especially those who were admitted in hospitals with acute hepatitis, while for HEV, most of the infections were due to fecal contamination of water.

Dr Nadeem said that highly-effective recombinant vaccines were now available. Vaccine can be given to those who are at increased risk of HBV infection such as health care workers, he said.

He said that it is also given routinely to neonates as universal vaccination in many countries. Hepatitis B Immunoglobulin (HBIG) may be used to protect persons who are exposed to Hepatitis B, he said.

It is particular efficacious within 48 hours of the incident. It may also be given to neonates who are at increased risk of contracting Hepatitis B i.e. whose mothers are HBsAg and HBeAg positive. Other measures include screening of blood donors, blood and body fluid precautions, Dr Nadeem concluded.