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Danger facing Jamaica

Published:Sunday | July 28, 2013 | 12:00 AM
JIS Photo Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson (left), and director, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa Etienne (right), listen to a point being made by director, National Blood Transfusion Service, Dr Angela Scott, as they arrive at Emancipation Park in New Kingston on June 14 to participate in the official launch of World Blood Donor Day 2013.

Scores living with Hepatitis without being aware

Marsha Clarke, Contributor

More than 40,000 Jamaicans could be living with the hepatitis viruses without being aware.

There are several hepatitis viruses identified worldwide; their transmissions vary from food contaminated with the virus, for example, shellfish, to contact with body fluids, especially blood.

The hepatitis viruses cause inflammation of the liver.

In Jamaica, the most common forms of the virus are hepatitis A, which is usually spread through food, and hepatitis B and C, which can be transmitted through blood.

Each unit of blood collected at the National Blood Transfusion Service in Jamaica is tested for the hepatitis B and C viruses, along with other infectious agents that can be transmitted by blood.

Each year, between 150 and 450 persons are identified with either the hepatitis B or C virus, while being screened through the blood-donation process in Jamaica.

Recently, Dr Angela Scott, director of the National Blood Transfusion Unit in Jamaica, sat down with Marsha Clarke, speciality pharmaceutical representative, to give an overview of the situation in Jamaica as it relates to blood donation.

Here is that interview:

M.C.: Why would someone who is infected with the virus come to donate blood?

Dr Scott: Most of the persons discovered during the blood-donation process are not aware that they have the disease because they had no symptoms at the time. They have either had symptoms before, which have gone away; this can be flu-like, abdominal pain, diarrhoea or jaundice. In some cases, however, they have recently caught the virus and do not have any symptoms as yet.

M.C.: Apart from blood, how is the virus transmitted?

Dr Scott: Hepatitis A is usually contracted through eating food contaminated with the virus, and the infection is self-limiting. Hepatitis B and C, however, are transmitted through sexual contact, from mother to child, or from contact with other body fluids. This is especially true of hepatitis B, which is extremely infectious.

M.C.: The number of persons affected does not sound too alarming.

Dr Scott: At first glance, it might seem insignificant, but each year, 0.5 per cent to 1.5 per cent of the donors screened by the Blood Transfusion Service of Jamaica are positive for the virus, which is often more than the disease burden for HIV. If we translate this percentage to the population at large, up to 42,000 persons could be infected with the virus and not be aware. The number of persons affected by the virus is of course higher, as many are suffering from the complications of the virus, especially liver disease, and so would not be part of the blood donor pool.

M.C.: How does one get tested for the virus?

Dr Scott: Testing for the virus involves a simple blood test.

M.C.: How soon after testing positive for the virus will one be allowed to donate blood again?

Dr Scott: Blood donors who test positive for either the hepatitis B or C viruses are not allowed to donate again, because of the possibility that the virus can remain in the body for many years. We do recommend, however, that the donor who is tested positive sees a doctor experienced in treating hepatitis B and C, as much better treatment options are available for these viruses today. Early treatment can prevent the development of some of the serious complications, like liver disease and cancer.