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MANILA, Philippines - Aldrich Talledo and his family were all set to migrate to New Zealand last year. A nurse by profession, Talledo, like others who seek greener pastures abroad, felt this was the best way he could provide for his wife and children. Until he was diagnosed with hepatitis B and everything changed.
Hepatitis B, an endemic disease but mostly undiagnosed in the Philippines, affects one in eight adult Filipinos, according to the Hepatology Society of the Philippines. This means that an estimated 14 million adult Filipinos are chronically infected with hepatitis B virus, said Dr. Diana Payawal, HSP president, at a press briefing for World Hepatitis Day which will be marked on July 28.
Of the number of chronically infected Filipinos, between 1.1 million and 1.9 million are expected to die prematurely of liver cancer.
Around the world, between 350 million and 400 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis B, with Asia accounting for most, or an estimated 300 million of the cases, according to Payawal.
Hepatitis B is an asymptomatic disease with patients normally not knowing they have it until it develops to liver cirrhosis that causes liver cancer.
“Liver cancer is the third most common cause of cancer in the Philippines,” said Payawal adding that diagnosis for hepatitis B is low due to little awareness and because carriers do not feel symptoms.
Hepatitis B and C are called “silent” viruses and a person could infect someone without knowing it. If left untreated, both could lead to liver scarring and life-threatening complications and death.
There are no national data on the prevalence of hepatitis C in the Philippines, but a study done among prisoners and drug users shows that 35 percent of drug users and 50 percent of inmates in the country are suffering from the disease. The virus is transferred through infected blood.
Dr. Eternity Labio, HPS secretary, said 90 percent of hepatitis B cases come from perinatal transmission or from mother to child. Ten percent come from high risk behaviors such as those who have themselves tattooed or those using illegal drugs.
She clarified that the study on the prevalence of hepatitis B only involves adult Filipinos and may actually go up if children are included. It is a lifetime ailment although the virus could be “suppressed” through medication, Labio told InterAksyon.com.
Doctors urge the public to have themselves tested for hepatitis B and C and go for vaccination. It was only in 2006 when the Philippines made a commitment to provide 100-percent funding for hepatitis B immunization--allowing vaccination within 24 hours of birth rather than at six weeks of age of an infant, according to the website of the World Health Organization.