KUALA LUMPUR: HALF a million of Malaysians are estimated to have Hepatitis C, which if left untreated can be fatal or lead to liver cancer or cirrhosis.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said what was worrying was that many were unaware if they had been infected with the virus due to lack of awareness.
Calling it a major challenge in the medical field, he said Hepatitis C incidence rates (IR) saw an increase from 3.71 per cent in 2009 to 8.57 last year.
Although all newborns receive free Hepatitis B vaccines since 1989, he said the IR of Hepatitis B increased from 2.13 per cent in 2009 to 12.6 last year.
“The Hepatitis B immunisation shot has proven to be somewhat effective, with a 95 per cent coverage rate.
“Adults may want to get booster doses of Hepatitis B vaccine (recommended in certain circumstances),” he said.
Dr Subramaniam cautioned that the increased prevalence of chronic Hepatitis B and C meant that more people would end up with cirrhosis and liver cancer.
He stressed on the need to step up efforts to identify patients at risk of the blood-borne virus.
“Screening for Hepatitis C at various levels needs to be en hanced and treatment prioritised to patients who are at higher risk of developing advanced liver disease.
“Screening, however, can only be effective if those identified to have Hepatitis C are linked to competent healthcare providers.”
Dr Subramaniam said the government was working with international agencies to formulate ways to make the cost of treatment affordable.
He added that Malaysia also saw a phenomenal increase in the number of non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases, the fastest-growing chronic liver disease in the developed world.