1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver characterized by the presence of inflammatory cells in the tissue of the organ (Ryder & Beckingham, 2001). It may occur with limited or no symptoms, but often leads to jaundice, anorexia (poor appetite) and malaise. Hepatitis is acute when it lasts less than six months and chronic when it persist longer. A group of viruses known as the hepatitis viruses cause most cases of hepatitis worldwide, but it can also be due to toxins (notably alcohol, certain medications and plants), other infections and autoimmune diseases. The hepatitis virus is found in the blood and other body fluids and is transmitted from person to person, the most common routes of infection includes blood transfusions and blood products where there is no screening for blood-borne viruses, medical or dental interventions in countries where equipment is not adequately sterilized mother to infant during childbirth, sexual transmission (in the case of hepatitis B), sharing equipment for injecting drugs, sharing straws, notes etc. for snorting cocaine (cocaine is particularly alkaline and corrosive), sharing razors, toothbrushes or other household articles, tattooing and body piercing if done using unsterile equipment (Ahmedin et al, 2004).
The hepatitis B virus is spread between people through contact with the blood or other body fluids (i.e. semen, vaginal fluid and saliva) of an infected person, while the hepatitis C virus is spread through direct contact with infected blood. Very rarely it can also be passed on through other body fluids (Redmond, 2007). Many people infected with hepatitis B or C rarely displays any symptom, although they can still transmit the virus to others.
Hepatitis B is a major disease of serious global public health proportion. It is preventable with safe and effective vaccines that have been available since 1982. Of the 2 billion people who have been infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) globally, more than 350 million have chronic (lifelong) infections. Over 20 million people are infected annually with this virus (Mohammed et al, 2003). Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver and is the most common blood-borne (direct contact with human blood) infection.