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Hepatitis

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Viral hepatitis is a major global health challenge.  Viral hepatitis, which affects the liver, is a group of infections referred to as hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E.  It is responsible for more than 1.4 million deaths annually, mostly in low- and middle- income countries.  This public health threat rivals the number of deaths from HIV/AIDS (1.7 million), tuberculosis (1.4 million) and malaria (700,000).  

One in three people worldwide have been infected with the hepatitis B virus at some point in their lives, and 400 million people live with chronic hepatitis B or C infection.  Hepatitis B and C causes roughly 80 percent of liver cancers, and are an important cause of cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver.  A key concern about viral hepatitis is hepatitis virus co-infection among people living with HIV, which can increase the risk of both serious liver disease and more rapidly progressive HIV infection.  

Close attention should therefore be paid to viral hepatitis as we implement global programs on HIV/AIDS such as the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Fast Facts about Viral Hepatitis

  • Getting tested is critical as people can live for years without symptoms, and early awareness of infection can allow people to take measures to prevent developing illness.  Since people may become ill decades after initial infection, viral hepatitis is sometimes referred to as a ‘silent epidemic.’
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (Task Force) recommends hepatitis C screening for adults at risk of infection, including people who currently use injection drugs or have in the past, as well as people who received a blood transfusion before 1992.  The Task Force also recommends one-time hepatitis C screening for all adults born between 1945 and 1965.
  • For hepatitis B, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends testing of people at high risk of infection (for example, those  with certain risk behaviors or born in countries endemic for hepatitis B).
  • More than 1 billion doses of hepatitis B vaccine have been administered to children worldwide, preventing millions of new infections and deaths.  Vaccinating babies at birth and ensuring that they complete the three dose vaccine series is important to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
  • Because of innovative medicines, many of those infected with hepatitis are able to live healthy lives.
  • HIV-hepatitis virus co-infection is a leading complication for both HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Co-infection is linked with more rapid progression of viral hepatitis-related liver disease, and may accelerate the progression of HIV/AIDS.   In sub-Saharan Africa, the prevalence of hepatitis B virus infection among people living with HIV is as high as 17 percent in some regions and as high as 60 to 90 percent among HIV-positive injecting drug users.

The United States Government and Hepatitis:

The United States Government engages in multiple activities through various agencies and departments to prevent, fight, and treat hepatitis.  Among them:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

National Cancer Institute - Hepatitis C and Lymphoma: Questions and Answers

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) - National Drug Alert Bulletin and Links: Hepatitis

US Department of Veterans Affairs - VA Clinical Public Health Programs: Hepatitis

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing House (NDDIC) - Viral Hepatitis: A through E and Beyond