At least 40 million Nigerians could have traces of the hepatitis virus--which causes inflammation in the liver, according to the Society for Gastroenterology and Hepatology in Nigeria.
The survey by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control--with support from pharmaceutical research firm Roche--took blood samples from 150 people in communities in two local government areas each in six states.
The survey found people who had undergone local circumcision were 43% more likely to contract hepatitis B--mostly from using unsafe implements.
It also found people were 17% more likely to contract the virus while getting tribal markings, 15% during blood transfusion, 13% during non sterile surgical procedures and 11% during body piercing.
For hepatitis C, the commonest risk factor was 52% in local circumcision, 21% in body piercing and 19% in unsterile blood transfusion.
But experts note a worrisome increasing incidence, especially among populations of tertiary education on account of increasing social vices, since a common transmission route for the virus is sexual contact and body fluid exchange.
This comes as guidelines for preventing, treating and managing the condition are still shaky.
"Unfortunately not much attention has been given to hepatitis control globally and especially in Nigeria even when the burden of hepatitis is rapidly increasing," said health minister Onyebuchi Chukwu.
He spoke through health permanent secretary Sani Bala at the inauguration on Monday of a working group to help develop national guidelines for hepatitis.
The working group has projected that an action plan could cost up to N561 million to procure products and deliver anti-hepatitis services between next year and 2015.
Newly-introduced pentavalent (five-in-one) vaccines offer protection against hepatitis A and B--but none against hepatitis C, which is responsible for the largest cases of liver cancer resulting from hepatitis.
"When we came in, it was alarming--the number of [people] we saw who have developed chronic hepatitis B and C," said an official of Roche, which funded the survey.
"Many are walking around with it. They feel completely fine until the last minute."
Global figures indicate hepatitis is a more serious disease than HIV: some 400 million infection of hepatitis occur every year compared with 34 million for HIV, but while nearly $2,774 is spent on each person living with HIV, only $20 is spent per viral hepatitis patient.