The Korea Herald


Are you vaccinated against hepatitis?


Published : Aug. 4, 2011 - 18:41

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Sixty-two-year-old Bae cannot forget the day he had his hepatitis C cured. In 2009, after six months of painful medication, he was declared free from the disease that had haunted him for decades.

“I had always felt tired, lethargic and hopeless. People suspected that I had a liver disorder but for a long time I did not know it was hepatitis C, because it was a relatively newly verified disease,” he said. He was diagnosed with the disease in late 2008 and had undergone Peginterferon injection therapies for six months.

He said his life has become better. “I feel more energetic and confident. I did not know that a healthy liver can change one’s life this much,” he said.

But not everyone is as lucky as Bae. According to the World Health Organization, about 2 billion people, or one-third of the world population, are carriers of hepatitis virus and about 1 million people die from it every year.

“This is a chronic disease across the whole world, but unfortunately there is very little awareness, even among health policy-makers, of its extent,” said Steven Wiersma, a WHO hepatitis specialist.

According to the Korean Association for the Study of Liver, about 2.5 million people, or 5 percent of the whole population, are suspected to have contracted the hepatitis B virus and about 400,000 have developed the disease. Also, a growing number of younger people are reported to suffer from hepatitis A every year. About 20,000 people die every year of liver-related disease and hepatitis B is believed to take up to 70 percent, it says.

The WHO says about 90 percent of those infected can recover after treatment and eradicate the virus from the body. However, when a child is infected, about 25 percent could die later, either from liver cancer or liver cirrhosis caused by the infection.

Among the five verified hepatitis virus’ ― A, B, C, D, E ― effective vaccines already exist to prevent against A and B. A vaccine is also available against hepatitis E, a form of hepatitis which is reported to be prevalent in less developed countries, but is not widely distributed.

Currently, the government includes hepatitis B vaccine in its infant immunization program but much more needs to be done, experts say.

“It is true that the prevalence rate of hepatitis B is falling. But the government needs to push forward stricter policies on other types of hepatitis since the number of liver cancer or liver cirrhosis believed to be caused by the hepatitis is still high,” Dr. Seo Dong-jin, head of the liver academy said.

By Bae Ji-sook (