1 out of 7 Filipinos has hepatitis B virus, doctor says

Raphael Bosano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 20 2023 06:01 PM

MANILA – One out of every seven Filipinos has the hepatitis B virus and may not know it, according to a medical expert. 

On Viral Hepatitis Awareness Month, Hepatology Society of the Philippines Vice President Dr. Wendell Espinosa said not every individual with hepatitis B experiences symptoms until complications start in the long term. 

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that affects a person’s liver. It is acquired through various means. 

“Dito sa Pilipinas yung most common mode of transmission is mother-to-child transmission. Hindi ibig sabihin na genetic disease ito. Posibleng may sakit yung nanay, but because of the trauma during child birth, na e-expose yung sanggol sa blood ng nanay, hence, nahahawa ang baby,” Espinosa explained. 

Similar to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) the hepatitis B virus may also be transmitted through unprotected sex, the sharing of syringes and of infected blood. 

While many do not immediately develop symptoms, Espinosa says there may be some who experience them. 

“Pwedeng manilaw, may abdominal pain in the right upper quadrant or body malaise o panghihina or fever. But most of the time, wala po silang sakit na nararamdaman. So walang signs and symptoms. Kaya tinatawag nila ito na silent killer, makikita lang ang sintomas pag huli na.”

Data from the the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that hepatitis B has affected approximately 296 million people including over 6 million children under the age of 5. 

Less than a million deaths around the world per year are said to be because of this disease. 

Hepatitis B, if left untreated, may lead to complications like liver failure, liver cirrhosis and, eventually, liver cancer. 

Around 67 percent of liver cancer cases in the Philippines is a result of hepatitis B. It is also the 4th leading cancer in the country in terms of incidence and is the 2nd leading cause of cancer-related death. 

Only one out of every 10 people with hepatitis B know they have it, something that should be taken seriously considering that the Philippines is a hyper endemic area for the virus, Espinosa said.

“Yung 9 out 10 are unaware. So inaadvocate natin na magpascreen lahat ng Pilipino. usong uso sa atin yun nga lang hindi natin nakikita kaya kelangan i-test,” he added.

Aside from raising awareness on hepatitis B, there is also a need to reduce the cost of testing. 

Who should be tested?

Not all people are at risk of getting a hepatitis B infection. 

Espinosa said household and sexual contacts of patients with hepatitis B should consider getting tested.

If an individual uses syringes, has a history of sexually transmitted diseases, or has engaged in sexual activities with multiple parters, patients undergoing renal dialysis and those needing immunosuppressive therapy, screening for hepatitis B should be considered.

Like other diseases, he use of barriers and proper hygiene are just some of the most effective ways to prevent getting infected, according to Espinosa. 

Vaccination for prevention

Similar to other pathogens, one may prevent getting hepatitis B through vaccination. 

“Lahat tayong Pilipino kailangan magpabakuna dahil nga hyper endemic ang hepatitis B sa Pilipinas. Pinopromote na ang baby ay bakunahan in the 24 hours of birth.”

Espinosa added that even adults may get vaccinated against hepatitis B. But they must first get checked for any antibodies as the vaccine is not effective if one is already infected. 

Hepatitis B differs from other types of viral hepatitis as the former is blood-borne. The other types of hepatitis are usually oral or fecal and are usually self-limiting.