Getting hepatitis C from blood transfusion 'extremely rare' today

The Singapore General Hospital. Twenty-two patients at an SGH renal ward were infected with hepatitis C. ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

Hepatitis C is very rare here, with less than 1 per cent of the population affected.

It was transmitted mainly by blood transfusion before 1995, said Dr Desmond Wai, consultant gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.

Singapore first started screening donor blood for hepatitis C in 1995.

Therefore, after 1995, it would be extremely rare to get the disease from a blood transfusion, said Dr Wai.

Hepatitis C, as well as hepatitis A and B, cause liver inflammation which may lead to liver cirrhosis, cancer and failure. The infections are caused by different viruses spread by varying means.The virus was first discovered in 1989, and the first commercially available test kit for it came on the market in 1992.

Hepatitis B and C viruses cause chronic diseases whereas the hepatitis A virus does not.

The hepatitis A virus is transmitted through contaminated food or contaminated drinking water. It causes a range of clinical problems, from mild illness with no symptoms to more severe illness and even, in rare occasions, acute liver failure and death. Usually, it eventually goes away and does not cause chronic problems.

Hepatitis B is spread by infected blood, semen, or other body fluids.

Hepatitis B and C viruses are much more dangerous than hepatitis A virus.

They are the leading causes of liver cancer, which is the third most fatal cancer in Singapore. Liver cancer accounts for one in six cancer deaths here. The virus attacks the liver and when no treatment is given, it could damage the liver beyond repair.

Symptoms may include a short, mild, flu-like illness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, weight loss, jaundice and itchy skin.

Hepatitis B affects many more people in Singapore than hepatitis C.

The latest study shows that 2.8 per cent of the population have hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B cannot be cured but can be well controlled with anti-viral medication.

Both hepatitis A and B can be prevented through separate vaccines.

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but it can be cured.

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