The Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) has started conducting the hepatitis B test on all pregnant women coming for treatment in the clinics run by the civic body.
The objective behind the screening, KMC doctors said, include preventing transmission of the virus that causes the disease from mother to child.
The National Viral Hepatitis Control Program has set a target to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030, said an official of the state health department.
Viral hepatitis is a systemic infection that affects predominantly the liver.
There are five viral agents causing viral hepatitis: hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.
Doctors said hepatitis B is the most worrying because it can lead to cirrhosis of liver and cancer. “That is why we have started with screening pregnant women for hepatitis B. Eventually, it will be extended to a larger population,” said a senior doctor in the KMC.
“We started the screening about two weeks ago,” said another KMC doctor.
Over 17 lakh people were treated in ward health clinics run by the KMC in 2022. An overwhelming majority of those patients were from low-income group families.
Once a woman tests positive for hepatitis B, she is immediately linked to a viral hepatitis treatment centre.
In Kolkata, the treatment centres are at the School of Tropical Medicine, RG Kar Medical College and Hospital, Calcutta National Medical College and Hospital and SSKM Hospital.
“Our health workers will remain in touch with these women and we have to ensure that their deliveries are done in these centres so that they receive the best care,” said a KMC doctor.
The newborn will be administered a hepatitis birth B dose in the hospital within 24 hours of birth. The KMC will ensure that the child gets the subsequent shots in the 10th, 14th and 16th week.
The hepatitis B vaccine is a part of the universal immunisation programme in India. Which means every child is entitled to receive the doses for free from any government centre that administers vaccines.
“Besides the birth dose, children born to mothers with hepatitis B will also be administered hepatitis B immunoglobulin for immediate boosting of immunity against the virus. The immunoglobulin administration is only for kids whose mothers have tested positive for hepatitis B,” said the doctor.
Sex with an infected partner, injection drug use that involves sharing needles, birth to an infected mother, contact with blood or open sores of an infected person are the possible transmission channels of hepatitis B.