“If one was to announce that an HIV preventative immunisation was available there would undoubtedly be pandemonium, unprecedented demand,” a Hepatitis B sufferer announced on the launch of a campaign to raise awareness of the virus.
It is therefore of particular consternation, according to the Hepatitis B Foundation, then that people are reluctant to or don’t even know that there is a vaccination for a far more infectious and widespread disease: Hepatitis B.
The virus is a global issue and gay men are said to be particularly at risk being approximately 10 times more likely to carry the diseases.
The campaign is called B Aware and aims to bring about a change in attitudes amongst the public, politicians and even clinicians.
The public consciousness about this disease is worryingly limited and there is major concern that this ‘silent’ virus will become endemic.
Health professionals accuse the UK government and others of not taking the problem seriously. Many if not most western governments have conducted mandatory immunisation programmes, the British government however has instead chosen to target ‘high risk’ groups, perhaps because of a wrongly held belief that it will be more cost efficient; treatment however will invariably be more expensive than prevention.
Treatment can often involve regular hospitalisation for decades. Immunisation however is as simple as a few injections that would cost the government as little as 50p a go.
The economic issue is a powerful one but the personal benefit of prevention cannot be underestimated when compared with the years of treatment and possibly liver transplant. Failure to treat or prevent is fatal, the disease causes 80% of liver cancers according to Professor Arie Zuckerman.
The B aware campaign estimates that approximately 2 billion people are infected with the virus worldwide, it is the 10th leading cause of death globally but remains hard to detect without a blood test.
In the UK there are an estimated 180,000 chronically infected individuals and each year about 7,700 new cases develop, more than the estimated 7,000 new cases of HIV.
The virus develops slowly and diagnosis often follows years of unknowingly carrying the virus during which time the liver of the victim could be permanently damaged.
50% of infections are spread through sexual intercourse but the virus can survive for up to a week in a drop of blood on a razor so the potential for infection through intravenous drug use is also prevalent.
However, Mr Zuckerman describes the gay community as a shining light in the fight against this disease and in building consciousness.