But when my very-old-time friend invited me to cover this event she called "The Yellow Manifesto," I couldn't say no (she wouldn't let me).
Well thank goodness for that, because last night, on the eve of the first-ever World Hepatitis Day, I met a group of people fighting to eradicate hepatitis and the discrimination against its victims, and I learned a few surprising facts about this sorely underestimated and widely misunderstood disease.
From the speech and PowerPoint slides of Dr. Madalinee Eternity Labio of the Hepatology Society of the Philippines, here are some very interesting things every Filipino should know about hepatitis:
- There are not two but six types of hepatitis: A, B, C, D, E, and G.
- Only hepatitis B and C cause liver cancer and cirrhosis. Hepatitis A does not.
- In fact, if you have a strong immune system, hepatitis A can resolve itself without vigorous medical treatment.
- You do not get hepatitis B by having your food prepared by somebody who has it. It is hepatitis A which is transmitted via contaminated food and water; hepatitis B is only transmitted if virus-laden body fluids enter another's blood stream through transfusion or an open wound/mucus membrane or sex. Don't mix the two up.
- As many as 1 in every 10 Filipinos have hepatitis B, but they don't know it because the disease is often asymptomatic -- it shows no symptoms until the liver is affected.
- In other words, most people with hepatitis B do not turn yellowish, as a lot of us believe. The absence of jaundice (yellow skin) does not ensure the absence of hepatitis.
- An amazing 90-95% of hepatitis B patients contracted their disease not from sexual contact but from their mothers, during their infancy, as the virus is transmitted in childbirth.
- If a pregnant mother is infected with the virus, very early vaccination will prevent the disease from developing in her newborn child.
- The Mandatory Infants and Children Immunization Act of 2011 (RA 10152) by Senator Pia Cayetano mandates that all newborn babies be given the hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours after birth.
- Most people live out their childhood unaware that they have hepatitis B. They only find out when they get their first medical exam, as a pre-employment requirement. Then the company often refuses to hire them -- which is illegal, as hepatitis is not transmissible through casual contact and generally poses no threat, not even in food industries, if the business has proper hygienic policies in place.
- Of every 4 people with hepatitis B, only 1 dies of cancer or cirrhosis. Some live out the rest of their lives without any symptoms. (Of course, it helps too if the disease is diagnosed early, monitored carefully, and managed well.)
- Nonetheless, the biggest cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis in the Philippines is not alcoholism, as many of us believe, but hepatitis B. (In addition, liver cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the country, and it is the second most fatal.)
- In fact, the HPV vaccine, which prevents cervical cancer, is not the first anti-cancer vaccine in the world; the Hepa-B vaccine, which prevents liver cancer, is.
- To treat hepatitis C or delay the progression of hepatitis B, you would normally need to shell out a whopping Php700,000.
- As an advocate in the fight against hepatitis, Merck Sharpe and Dohme (MSD) offers a 50% discount on the treatment cost of hepatitis B and C. They also offer free testing to regularly check if the medication is creating its desired effect in the patient.
What is the message we want to send with this list? First, hepatitis victims are stigmatized because we often think they got it from inappropriate social activities. We're wrong; they probably got it from childbirth.
Second, we are often afraid to interact with hepatitis victims because we are afraid of infection. Well, unless you "sleep" with them, they can't infect you with hepatitis B. Blood donations have been screened against hepatitis contamination since the 1990s.
You can only get hepatitis A if you let your colleague prepare your food for you right after he/she went to the bathroom (now why would you do that?), and if you do contract hepatitis A, remember that it's uncomfortable but, if you take care not to get dehydrated from the vomiting and diarrhea, hepatitis A is not deadly.
Hepatitis B infection is not the end of the world. Three out of four victims live out normal lives, medically speaking. It is the social stigma that makes life difficult for them.
It is easy to prevent hepatitis A and B. All you need is timely hepatitis vaccination, which, by the way, is much cheaper than hepatitis treatment.
Have your children had their hepatitis B vaccination? It's free at your nearest health center! (That's where all my kids got theirs.)