What she didn’t expect was to be diagnosed with a different viral infection altogether: hepatitis B. “The way the health worker delivered it to me, it was like, ‘It’s worse than HIV’. I was confused, I was suicidal,” says Nuru (who asked that her real name not be used for this article). “I just didn’t understand what it was because no one ever talks about hep B — they talk about HIV. That’s well researched, it’s well talked about, well documented. It’s all over the television. But hep B is not.”
The hepatitis B virus (HBV), which spreads through blood and bodily fluids and invades liver cells, is thought to kill just under 1 million people every year around the world, mostly from cancer or scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver. HBV is less likely to be fatal than HIV, and many people who carry the virus don’t have symptoms. But because more than 250 million people live with chronic HBV infections, more than 7 times the number with HIV, its global death toll now rivals that of the more-feared virus.