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health leadHepatitis C has been dubbed ‘the silent storm’ due to its propensity to cause cirrhosis and liver cancer.

A research study conducted in 2011 revealed that Pakistan has the second highest prevalence rate of Hepatitis C, ranging between 4.5 and 8 percent, compared to the global average of 2.2 percent. This is mainly due to the lack of a vaccine, costly treatment and the disease’s complexity, which requires different drug treatments – such as Interferon, which is usually prescribed for 24 to 48 weeks, with no guaranteed cure, not to mention a host of side effects including fever, chills, muscular pain and malaise. This scenario changed on November 21 when the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan approved Sofosbuvir, an orally administered treatment for Hepatitis C. Initial research has reported that it has a comparatively higher success rate than Interferon treatment; short-term side effects include occasional headaches, nausea and insomnia. The monthly cost of treatment ranges between Rs 60,000 and 70,000 – which is almost 60% higher than Interferon – and also depends on the brand prescribed.

With almost 10 million Pakistanis currently affected by the disease and 280,000 people succumbing to it annually, awareness about the spread and symptoms of the disease is critical.

The disease spreads via blood-to-blood contact; this puts intravenous drug users at maximum risk, as well as people exposed to unsterilised epidermal or subcutaneous equipment (such as those used at hospitals, dental clinics, tattoo parlours or jewellery shops), vertical transmission from mother to the foetus (true for almost 10% of pregnancies) and unsafe blood transfusions.

Once you contract it, symptoms surface almost immediately, and include fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, muscle spasms, joint pains and jaundice. Although 80% of the acute cases become chronic, if you are lucky, spontaneous remission occurs in about 10 to 50% of patients.

– Dr Tariq Sohail
The writer works at the Civil Hospital, Karachi.

First published in the HEALTH ADVERTISER Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on December 14, 2014.

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