Protect Your Child’s Liver From Hepatitis

by Datuk Dr. Zulkifli Ismail

The liver is a vital organ in your body. It helps to process nutrients, remove toxins, fight off infections, store energy, and stop bleeding. To allow your liver to keep performing well, you need to protect your liver from various diseases, which can cause liver damage. One of the diseases that may harm your liver is hepatitis.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection. The 5 main hepatitis viruses are A, B, C, D, E and G.

Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common types of hepatitis diseases. They vary in terms of severity, means of spread, epidemic features, and preventive measures. Hepatitis can cause the liver to swell and lose its ability to function. It can also lead to cirrhosis (scarring), liver failure or cancer of the liver.

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As a parent, you definitely want to keep your child healthy and protect him from this dreaded group of diseases. The good news is, vaccines are currently available for the prevention of hepatitis A and B.

Prevent Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease which goes away within a few weeks. It rarely leads to permanent liver damage in healthy people. The hepatitis A virus is found in stools of the infected person. People most commonly get infected when they consume food or drinks that are contaminated with the infected person’s stool. Lightly cooked seafood like cockles contaminated by faeces or sewage provides a suitable medium to spread hepatitis A.

There is a chance of an outbreak in day-care centres because many young children wear diapers. If an infected child’s stool gets on their hands, they may contaminate the things they touch and transmit the virus to other children who touch these contaminated surfaces. Caregivers may also infect others if they do not wash their hands thoroughly after changing a child’s diaper.

Hepatitis can also spread through infected food handlers, consumption of undercooked oysters, clams, or mussels from contaminated waters, traveling to countries with poor sanitation, and injecting-drug users.

The risk of developing symptoms among people infected with hepatitis A is correlated with age. In children below 6 years of age, there are usually no symptoms. Only 10% of the infected children develop jaundice.

On the other hand, infection causes clinical disease among older children and adults, with jaundice occurring in more than 70% of cases. The good news is, once a person gets infected, life-long immunity to the virus is induced.

Prevention is possible through good hygiene practices. However, the best way to protect your child is through vaccination. The hepatitis A vaccine is now available in Malaysia for those above one year of age. Two doses given 6 months apart are required for full immunity against hepatitis A. The duration of protection is 14-20 years for children and at least 25 years for adults. It has also been reported that the vaccine is 85% effective in protecting against the virus.

Keep Away From Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B can cause chronic liver disease, which is potentially life-threatening. The chance of hepatitis B developing into a chronic disease depends on the age at which a person becomes infected. The younger you are, the higher the risk of a chronic infection.

Chronic infection occurs in 90% of infants infected at birth, 30% of children infected at age 1 to 5 years and 6% of people infected after age 5 years.

The hepatitis B vaccine, the first vaccine indirectly related to the prevention of liver cancer, has been a mandatory vaccine under the National Immunisation Schedule since 1989. Since its introduction, there has been a decline in the number of Hepatitis B virus (HBV) carriers in our country.

Full immunisation requires an administration of 3 doses. Hepatitis B vaccine is 90% effective in protecting against the virus, its chronic consequences, and liver cancer. Protection lasts at least 20 years and could be life-long.

Advancements in Vaccines for Hepatitis

A combination vaccine for hepatitis A and B is now available for those above 16 years of age. It combines inactivated hepatitis A and recombinant hepatitis B.

This combination vaccine consists of 3 doses. The first dose is followed by the second dose a month later, and the final dose is given 6 months after the first dose (0, 1, 6 month schedule).

It has been reported that the combination vaccine is more than 99% effective for hepatitis A and 93-97% effective for hepatitis B.

Technology today has made protection against hepatitis A and B available. There will be more hepatitis vaccines to come in the future.

More info on HEPATITIS here.

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