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World Hepatitis Day – July 28th

Approximately 1 in 12 persons worldwide, or some 500 million people, are living with chronic viral hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is among the top 10 infectious disease killers and the leading cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis.

Graphic: Approximately 1 in 12 persons worldwide, or some 500 million people, are living with chronic viral hepatitis.July 28th, 2011 is World Hepatitis Day

Viral hepatitis affects more than half a billion persons worldwide, many of whom are unaware that they are infected. In order to raise awareness of this silent epidemic, the World Health Assembly has designated July 28th as the first ever World Hepatitis Day (1). Organizations around the world, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC, are using the day to raise awareness and challenge the globe to meet the need for viral hepatitis prevention and control.

Viral Hepatitis: A Global Perspective

Approximately 1 in 12 persons worldwide, or some 500 million people, are living with chronic viral hepatitis (2); 1 million of those who are infected die each year, primarily from cirrhosis or liver cancer resulting from their hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections (3). Many of those who are chronically infected with viral hepatitis are unaware of their infection as the virus can go 20 to 30 years before they develop symptoms or feel sick. As a result, even though a person has no symptoms and may appear healthy, the virus can still be detected in the blood and damage to the liver can still be occurring.

Viral hepatitis is among the top 10 infectious disease killers and the leading cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis. Both chronic hepatitis B and chronic hepatitis C cause approximately 80% of the world's liver cancer and have contributed to the increases in rates of liver cancer in recent decades (3).

Chronic Hepatitis B

An estimated 350 million people are living with chronic hepatitis B worldwide (3). The virus is common in many areas across the world, especially Asian and African countries. Despite the success of the hepatitis B vaccine, only about 1 in 5 infants globally receive a birth dose of Hepatitis B vaccine, which is necessary to prevent mother's infected with hepatitis B from spreading it to their newborns (4). Also, many adults who are at risk for getting hepatitis B remain unvaccinated, including 50% of adults at risk in the U.S. (3,5). Inadequate screening of donated blood in many parts of the world causes up to 80,000 hepatitis B infections every year (6) and unsafe injection practices, many of which are linked to injection drug use, may result in as many as 16 million hepatitis B cases annually (7).

Map: Worldwide Rates of Chronic Hepatitis B – world map showing rates of chronic Hepatitis B infection, which is common in many areas around the world, especially Asian and African countries.

Chronic Hepatitis C

Chronic hepatitis C affects an estimated 170 million people worldwide and causes approximately 350,000 deaths each year (3). Unfortunately there is no vaccine available to prevent hepatitis C, but research is being done to develop one. Most infections are associated with inadequate infection control and unsafe injection practices, which are estimated to account for as many as 4.7 million cases of hepatitis C annually (7). An estimated 500,000 cases of hepatitis C every year may also occur as a result of many countries not properly screening donated blood (6).

Prevention

Viral hepatitis can be prevented. Since the creation of the hepatitis B vaccine in 1969, hepatitis B vaccination now ranks as our most effective tool for the prevention of viral hepatitis. Implementation of routine infant vaccination for hepatitis B, for instance, has drastically decreased rates of new infection in some areas. Hepatitis B vaccine is now offered to children in at least 178 countries worldwide and global coverage has reached approximately 70% (8). This level of protection will prevent over 700,000 future deaths from cirrhosis and liver cancer for babies born each year (9).

Many advances have occurred during the recent decade that have drastically changed the prevention and control of hepatitis C. For instance, a rapid test for hepatitis C virus antibody has now been developed and is available in Europe and the U.S. New treatments are also available for hepatitis C that have been shown to reduce treatment time and also increase the number of people who are able to clear the virus.

More Information

References

  1. WHO. Viral hepatitis: report by the Secretariat, March 2010. [PDF - 45KB]
  2. WHO. Hepatitis B Fact Sheet.
  3. Perz JF, Armstrong GL, Farrington LA, Hutin YJ, Bell BP. The contribution of hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus infections to cirrhosis and primary liver cancer worldwide. J Hepatol 2006;45:529–38.
  4. CDC. Implementation of newborn hepatitis B vaccination --- worldwide, 2006. MMWR 2008; 57(46): 1249-52.
  5. DHHS. Combating the silent epidemic of viral hepatitis: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services action plan for the prevention, care, and treatment of viral hepatitis.
  6. Rapita, E. Dhingra N, Hutin Y, and Lloyd D. 11th International Symposium on Viral Hepatitis and Liver Disease. Sydney, Australia, 2003.
  7. Kane A, Lioyd J, Zaffran M, Simonsen L, Kane M. Bull World Health Organ 1999;77(10):801-7.
  8. WHO. Global immunization data.
  9. Goldstein ST, Zhou F, Hadler SC, Bell BP, Mast EE, Margolis HS. A mathematical model to estimate global hepatitis B disease burden and vaccination impact. Int J Epidemiol 2005;34:1329–39. [PDF - 245KB]

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