As Nigeria joins the world to mark this year’s World Hepatitis Day today (Saturday July 28, 2012), experts have said that hepatitis B alone affects about 19 million Nigerians.

The experts, who made the revelation in Lagos on Friday 27 July 2012 during a symposium on hepatitis B organized by the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) in collaboration with the Society of Gastroenterology and Hepatology of Nigeria (SGHIN) called for collaboration to raise awareness on the disease, which they said is more infectious and common than the human immunodeficiency virus infection / acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS).

NIMR Director-General, Prof. Innocent Ujah, said although the disease is deadly, it is largely unknown by Nigerians. He put the global rate of hepatitis B and C  at about  490 million, adding that HIV and the disease “area two enemies” that should  not be allowed to mix.

He called for collaboration to ensure that Nigerians are not only aware of the viral disease, but are able to prevent it.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared in 2010, July 28 of every year as World Hepatitis Day with a call for comprehensive approach to the prevention and control of the viral disease.

The world body added that hepatitis A and E are typically caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water, while hepatitis B, C and D usually occur as a result of parental (other body parts except the mouth) contact with infected body fluids.

Associate Professor and Consultant Gastroenterologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr. Funmilayo Lesi, a member of SGHIN, said hepatitis B is a common disease in Nigeria that affects at least 19 million or one in eight Nigerians. She called on Nigerians to take steps to prevent the disease, as there are vaccines to prevent its occurrence.

Like in other parts of the globe “World Hepatitis Day-2012″ is being observed on 28th of July every year in a bid to raise awareness among people about the disease of hepatitis so that with early detection and proper treatment of the patients, the goal of healthy society could be achieved.

To mark the Day seminars, walks, free medical camps and other activities are to be held in which speakers will highlight different aspects of the disease.

Only by increasing awareness of different forms of hepatitis and how the same can be prevented and treated, not only the spread of disease could be checked but thousands of lives could be saved also, health professionals said.

There are five hepatitis viruses defined by types- A, B, C, D and E. Types B and C are of significant concern since a high proportion of people infected with these viruses may not experience symptoms at the early stage of the disease, and only become aware of their infection when they are chronically ill.

According to WHO, types B and C could lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and, together, are the most common causes of liver cirrhosis and cancer.

Common modes of transmission of these viruses include receipt of contaminated blood or blood products, invasive medical procedures using contaminated equipment and for hepatitis B, transmission from mother to baby at birth, from family member to child, and also by sexual contact,

Also infected children sleeping next to each other, sharing of razor blades, being tattooed with unsterilized equipment are responsible for the transmission of the ailment.