Mr. O was too young to die, yet this is exactly what happened. He walked into the hospital confused with a swollen belly; his eyes were yellow and he was short of breath… and he was only 39 years old.
An initial assessment showed that he had advanced liver disease, called cirrhosis; in short, his liver had been damaged over many years and had turned into a large block of scar tissue. It no longer performed its essential functions and nothing could be done to reverse this tragic situation… and he was only 39 years old.
He swore he did not drink alcohol and he was not lying. Further testing showed that Mr. O suffered from hepatitis B. He had never known he had that disease and actually had never even heard of it. And that may be the real tragedy: hepatitis B is very common, yet no one seems to be talking about it.
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver ; there are many different causes of hepatitis but hepatitis B is caused by a virus. It is transmitted through infected bodily fluids. In Nigeria, it is typically transmitted in early life from one infected child to another non yet infected child. It can happen through biting, scratching, minor cuts and bleeding.
Hepatitis B can also be transmitted at birth from an infected mother to her baby. Later on in life, hepatitis B can also be sexually transmitted. It is estimated that 10-15% of the population of Lagos is infected with hepatitis B.
Individuals who are chronically infected with hepatitis B for years develop many complications and eventually cirrhosis, just like Mr.O. But it does not have to be the case: hepatitis B can be prevented with vaccination and can be managed if detected.
Would you like to know your hepatitis B status? It is as simple as a blood test. If you don’t have hepatitis B, get vaccinated! If you do, go see your doctor and find out what can be done to prevent your liver from deteriorating.
Mr. O could have been saved by a sample screening test. Don’t let that be your story. Get screened for hepatitis B!