PETALING JAYA: Only about one in 10 Malaysians who carry the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) has been diagnosed with the potentially fatal liver disease, said an expert.
“The diagnosed cases are only the tip of the iceberg,” said Prof Dr Rosmawati Mohamed, consultant hepatologist at University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC).
She said that worldwide, only about 15% of HCV cases are diagnosed, compared with 10% in Malaysia.
The majority of cases go undiagnosed because of the asymptomatic nature of the disease, where symptoms do not necessarily show themselves, she said at the launch of the At the Edge of a Miracle: The Hepatitis C Epidemic in Malaysia report on Thursday.
The report by the Malaysian Aids Council (MAC) was launched in conjunction with World Hepatitis Day which falls on July 28 every year.
It is estimated that 435,000 to 500,000 Malaysians carry the virus, a number derived by MAC’s modelling of data provided by the Ministry of Health, according to Dr Rosmawati.
HCV is mainly transmitted through contaminated blood.
MAC honorary secretary Hisham Hussein said the prevalence of HCV among those who inject drugs was estimated at 50% to 67%.
“Given the overlapping modes of transmission, HIV-HCV co-infection – particularly among those who inject drugs – is a significant public health concern,” he said.
He said that a study in 2009 conducted among 552 drug users, who were not undergoing treatment, found that 65.4% of them had HCV.
Out of those, about 40% of them were also diagnosed with HIV.
According to the World Health Organisation, a significant number of those chronically infected will also develop liver cancer.