On Amitabh Bachchan's birthday today, we revisit a major health cause he champions

Amitabh Bachchan lived with hepatitis B for years before doctors discovered it in 2000 - by then, only 25% of his liver was still functioning.

Myupchar October 11, 2019 13:14:45 IST
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On Amitabh Bachchan's birthday today, we revisit a major health cause he champions
  • In late 2015, Bachchan joined UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador to raise awareness around hepatitis B

  • Bachchan lived with hepatitis B for years before doctors discovered it in 2000 during a routine check-up

  • In a video titled "End Stigmatization of Hepatitis B Patients", Bachchan cleared several myths surrounding the viral disease

Amitabh Bachchan has inspired millions of people around the world. On his 77th birthday today, we look at one of the reasons he’s inspired so many people in healthcare: in 2015, Amitabh Bachchan took up the cudgels for hepatitis B patients everywhere.

Here’s the back story: in 1982, the iconic actor had an accident on the sets of Coolie - another blockbuster film where he plays the angry young commoner. During his treatment, Bachchan received 60 units of blood donated by over 200 friends, family and adoring fans. One of those units happened to be infected with hepatitis B. (Today, blood samples are rigorously tested for hepatitis before transfusion.)

On Amitabh Bachchans birthday today we revisit a major health cause he champions

Image source: Getty Images.

Bachchan lived with hepatitis B for years before doctors discovered it in 2000 during a routine check-up - by then, only 25% of his liver was still functioning. Bachchan has been fighting the disease, as well as the stigma attached to it, since.

In late 2015, Bachchan joined UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador to raise awareness around hepatitis B. In a video titled “End Stigmatization of Hepatitis B Patients", Bachchan cleared several myths surrounding the viral disease. Chief among them, the fact that it does not spread through touching someone or sharing a plate of food with them.

“It has come to my attention that people living with hepatitis B are sometimes ill-treated by family - daughters and daughters-in-law are turned out of homes,” Bachchan said in the video in Hindi. “Hepatitis B doesn’t spread through touching someone or sitting with them. I play with my grandchildren, eat with my family,” he added.

In an ode to Bachchan on his birthday, here’s what you need to know about hepatitis B, in a question-and-answer (Q&A) format that has become synonymous with him and with Kaun Banega Crorepati.

Q: What is hepatitis B?

A: The World Health Organization (WHO) describes hepatitis B as a potentially life-threatening liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. Simply put, hepatitis means swelling or inflammation of the liver. Over 50 million people in India are currently living with this disease.

Q: Can I shake hands with someone or kiss someone who has hepatitis B? What about sharing meals, water, or utensils with someone who has the infection?

A: Hepatitis B is transmitted by sharing bodily fluids - like through unprotected sex or contact with blood. Hepatitis B virus can also be transmitted by an infected mother to her child at birth. It can also get transmitted through a puncture in the skin. But this is a cause of concern for surgeons and paramedical staff mainly.

Q: Can hepatitis B spread through a mosquito bite?

A: No, hepatitis B doesn’t spread through any insect bite.

Q: Is constant abdominal pain be a sign of hepatitis B?

A: Constant abdominal pain is one of the symptoms of acute hepatitis B infection, along with body ache, loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, and clay-coloured stool. But the infection can only be confirmed after running proper tests like the liver function test - a blood test that measures enzymes in the liver.

In most cases of chronic hepatitis B, however, the patient doesn't present with any symptoms at all.

Q: Is there any way to prevent hepatitis B infection?

A: The hepatitis B vaccine has been available worldwide since the early-1980s - it is given at birth or within 24 hours of being born. Subsequently, three doses are given at six, 10 and 14 weeks in combination with DPT (Diphtheria) and Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type B) vaccine.

If someone who hasn’t been vaccinated gets exposed to the hepatitis B virus, there is also an emergency injection - hepatitis B immune globulin, or HBIG - that is given within 24 hours, to prevent infection.

Q: Can hepatitis B spread through breastfeeding?

A: Hepatitis B cannot spread through breast milk. Moreover, the hepatitis B vaccine given at birth further reduces the chances of infection.

Q: Can hepatitis B be fatal if not treated?

A: If not treated, hepatitis B infection can result in chronic (life-long) liver disease, including cirrhosis (formation of fibres in the liver) and liver cancer.

Q: If I have had hepatitis B infection once, can I get it again?

A: It is extremely unlikely. There is only a 5% chance that someone who’s had the infection — and beaten it — in the past can get it again. Once the hepatitis B virus is cleared, antibodies get built - they protect the body from disease by attaching to the virus and destroying it.

Q: Can someone with hepatitis B donate organs?

A: After a thorough clinical evaluation, even people with acute or chronic hepatitis B can donate organs or tissues.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. For more information, please read our article on Hepatitis B.

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