Health: Hepatitis B virus detection in the country has been on the rise since 2012.

In 2012, of the 27,040 blood samples tested for the virus, 606 were detected positive. The number increased to 875 in 2013, which further increased to 1,235 last year.

As Bhutan joined the world to observe the World Hepatitis Day yesterday, health officials said that prevalence of the viral infection could be higher in the country although no study has been conducted.

Gastroenterologist Dr G P Dhakal said hepatitis B, which is most common in Bhutan, is transmitted through blood transfer, mother to child, blood contamination and sexual route.

If a child below five is infected with Hepatitis B, the risk of it becoming chronic is higher, whereas if an adult acquires the virus the risk of chronicity is minimum. When Hepatitis B is left untreated, it leads to chronic liver disease such as liver cirrhosis and cancer.

“All people detected with hepatitis B virus will not have the risk of developing liver disease. Only about 25 percent of the carriers are at risk,” Dr G P Dhakal said.

Hepatitis B tests are conducted in almost all hospital and Basic Health Units in the country. When positive cases are detected, ultrasound and liver function tests are carried out on the person.  Blood samples are then sent to Delhi’s Lal Path Laboratory to test DNA load for detailed virus study.

Different people respond to treatment differently depending on their immunity.

Dr G P Dhakal said that a day would come when Bhutan would achieve 100 percent immunisation against Hapatitis B.

“The risk of getting Hepatitis B is minimised because all blood products are screened for Hepatitis B. Health centres use seterlised needles and people are encouraged to practice safe sex,” he said.

Positive patients who do not require treatment must do checkup every three months for liver function test and ultrasound every six months.

Other Hepatitis such as A and E are transmitted through contaminated food and water and are not common in Bhutan. While Hepatitis D and B co-exist, hepatitis D is uncommon around the world. Hepatitis C also transmitted through blood is  not common in Bhutan.

Health ministry’s spokesperson, Kado Zangpo, said that there is a need to carry out prevalence study but intervention level is limited.  He said, a disease burden study will also be conducted in the country.

“We need experts to carryout study on disease burden of Hepatitis,” he said.

Hepatitis B virus is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV and is easily transmitted.  Hepatitis B vaccine in the country was introduced in 1996. The vaccine is given at birth, six weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks in the form of pentavalent vaccine.

Children who are born to hepatitis B positive mothers must receive HBV vaccine within 12 hours after birth.

By Nirmala Pokhrel