Posted on Nov 03, 2015 by Travis Jones
A recent Hepatitis C (HCV) outbreak in Singapore’s largest hospital, Singapore General Hospital, which has infected 22 people in the facility’s Renal Ward, has raised alarms around the city’s healthcare sector as medical professionals and officials move to establish just how far the outbreak may have spread, and how it can be stopped. The disease has already killed at least 4 people in the hospital, and over 500 other patients have been screened for it. What’s more, Singapore’s Ministry of Health is already planning an independent review committee to investigate the incident, identify how it happened and, hopefully, be able to prevent further occurrences of this type.
This is all well and good, but for all patients who have been in the hospital recently, peace of mind may seem like it’s now a world away, as they have to wonder if they possibly have been exposed to HCV. Here, Pacific Prime Singapore takes a look at the causes and complications of Hepatitis C, how at risk you may be of contracting it, and how you can protect yourself and your family from it.
Dangers of HCV
So why is Hepatitis C such a serious illness anyway? It’s good to spell out the reasons why before we can truly acknowledge how seriously the disease should be taken.
Hepatitis C cannot be contracted merely through the air or by touch. The disease can only be spread by contact with infected blood, or sometimes through sexual transmission. This makes Hepatitis C most prevalent among drug users who share needles, or other such communities, but it also makes a hospital one of the higher risk areas for contracting the illness, as this is where blood is commonly drawn and transfused – which also makes it one of the places where infected needles are most likely to reside.
Once a person has contracted Hepatitis C it can have both immediate and lasting effects. The later is true because the ailment has a 70-85% chance becoming a chronic disease - meaning that it may never leave the body once a patient is infected.
Immediate symptoms of Hepatitis C, which is a disease that predominantly affects the liver, are:
Loss of appetite
Unusually colored stool
It can actually take 2-24 weeks for these types of acute symptoms to appear in an infected patient after they contract HCV, and, in fact, most patients do not even see any of the above symptoms at all. This is where the long-term effects of HCV can be especially scary, as the infected patient may not even be aware that they have the disease.
Those living with Hepatitis C chronically should be on the lookout for especially worrying conditions, including jaundice, liver cancer or liver failure. Unfortunately, cancer as a result of HCV can develop over a period of decades without showing any real symptoms. For this reason, it is advisable to have your blood checked for infection on a somewhat regular basis. This can be done during a routine check-up that includes blood testing, or as part of preliminary screenings for blood donation.
Protecting yourself and your family
Not too long ago, it was widely accepted that there was no cure for HCV in people that had to live with it chronically. However, there are now drugs on the market that can effectively cure the disease in nearly 70% of patients – the virus-fighting pharmaceuticals Interferon and Ribavirin. Of course, these drugs can help people that have already contracted HCV, but what about preventing contraction in the first place?
First of all, since Hepatitis C can be a sexually transmitted disease, it is always advisable to use a condom during intercourse. Also, drug abuse in all of its forms should be avoided, but should you find yourself using needles for any reason, it is imperative that they be new and sterilized, and then discarded in a safe and sanitary manner.
When it comes to blood transfusions, however, there are not many ways that you can prevent becoming infected by Hepatitis C. This is simply because by and large we place our trust in the medical professionals that administer somewhat routine treatments such as blood transfusions.
Fortunately for those in Singapore, instances of infected blood being given to patients are extremely rare, and the recent outbreak at Singapore General Hospital was an extraordinary incident. In fact, according to Singapore’s Health Science Authority - and thanks to the care taken by local medical professionals - only 1 in 1.3 million blood donations in the city-state are infected with Hepatitis C, which is a far lower prevalence of the disease among the blood supply then Hepatitis B or even HIV.
Having said this, as with most any disease or medical condition that a person could develop, having a quality and comprehensive health insurance plan for all of your family members is a must. And while this statement is true for everyone in Singapore, it is especially true for expatriates in the city that do not have access to its excellent public healthcare system.
If you are an expat in Singapore, or even a Singapore native that wants to ensure the highest quality of care for your family, contact Pacific Prime Singapore today to discuss whether your current health insurance will provide coverage from the conditions that you care most about or not. Whether it’s Hepatitis C, another disease, or other coverages - like maternity or dental - Pacific Prime’s agents can provide you with free price quotes and plan comparisons from the best insurers in the region. Talk with them today!