As we celebrate World Hepatitis Day on 28 July to raise awareness about the disease, the vaccination against the virus in Southern India remains inconsistent, according to data and experts.
Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV).
For some people, hepatitis B infection becomes chronic, meaning it lasts more than six months.
Having chronic hepatitis B increases a person’s risk of developing liver failure, liver cancer, or cirrhosis — a condition that permanently scars the liver.
In India, the government provides immunisation against HBV within 24 hours of childbirth, while the remaining three doses are administered in the next 12 weeks.
According to the latest edition of the National Family and Health Survey (NFHS-5), children in South India don’t take all four doses of vaccine.
Hepatitis B vaccination in South India
According to NFHS-5, around 84.9 percent of the children get the vaccine in Tamil Nadu, while the number is 84.5 percent in Karnataka, 81.4 percent in Kerala, 79.5 percent in Andhra Pradesh, and 73.9 percent in Telangana.
Hepatitis B1, B2, and B3 vaccines, which are given over the 12 weeks after birth, are too inconsistent in the southern states.
The B1 shot, which is given at four weeks, has the highest prevalence in Tamil Nadu (95.7 percent), followed by Kerala (93.7 percent), Karnataka (91.8 percent), Andhra Pradesh (91.8 percent), and Telangana (90.5 percent).
B2, given at eight weeks, is again highest in Tamil Nadu (95.1 percent), followed by Karnataka (91.7 percent), Kerala (89.9 percent), Andhra Pradesh (89.9 percent), and Telangana (86.4 percent).
The last dose, B3, given at 12 weeks, again had the highest prevalence in Tamil Nadu (92.3 percent), followed by Karnataka (88.8 percent), Telangana (86.4 percent), Andhra Pradesh (85.3 percent), and Kerala (83 percent).
A study demonstrated that the level and patterns of missing and dropping out of different doses of hepatitis B in states are due to socio-economic and demographic characteristics of the children.
“More than two-thirds of the children delivered in a home (non-institutional setting) did not receive the birth dose,” says the study.
The hepatitis virus causes inflammation of the liver and can become life-threatening because of the diseases such as cirrhosis and hepato-cellular carcinoma (liver cancer).
Why is vaccinating important?
The hepatitis B vaccine is given to prevent the severe liver disease that can develop when children or adults are infected with the hepatitis B virus.
The virus is passed from person to person through blood, semen, or other bodily fluids.
It does not spread by sneezing or coughing.
Pregnant women infected with HBV can pass the virus to their babies during childbirth.
However, the newborn can be vaccinated to avoid getting infected in almost all cases.
Hepatitis B carriers are people who have the hepatitis B virus in their blood, even though they don’t feel sick.
Hepatitis B symptoms
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness and fatigue
- Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
How can it be prevented?
The hepatitis B vaccine is one of the best ways to control the disease.
It is safe, effective and widely available.
Also, the adoption of safe blood-handling practices can reduce infection.
Is it curable?
Hepatitis B infection may be either short-lived (acute) or long-lasting (chronic).
Acute hepatitis B infection lasts less than six months.
The immune system likely can clear acute hepatitis B from the body, and people recover completely within a few months.
Most people who get hepatitis B as adults have an acute infection, but it can lead to chronic infection.
Chronic hepatitis B infection lasts six months or longer.
It lingers because the immune system can't fight off the infection.
Chronic hepatitis B infection may last a lifetime, possibly leading to serious illnesses such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.