February 12, 2009

Experts Raise Awareness For Hepatitis Prevention

A leading expert on hepatitis said on Thursday that governments must do more to raise awareness and curb rising incidences of chronic hepatitis B and C, diseases that affect more than 500 million people in the world, Reuters reported.

Both forms of the condition result in over 1.5 million deaths a year and can cause permanent damage to the liver, including cirrhosis, or scarring, and liver cancer if they are not properly controlled.

Charles Gore, president of the World Hepatitis Alliance, a group representing hepatitis patients in many parts of the world, said governments are absolutely not doing enough.

He called it a circular problem, where awareness is low and not on the top of priority lists. There is very little advocacy and nobody is doing anything to raise awareness, he added.

"We are talking 500 million people with hepatitis B or C, with 1.5 million deaths annually. HIV is 33 million (number of people infected) and 2.1 million deaths. It's the same ballpark in terms of mortality, but in terms of awareness, it is nowhere."

Hepatitis B is endemic in parts of Asia and Africa, and the chief mode of transmission is from mother to child.

Experts estimate over 360 million hepatitis B carriers across the world, and some 130 million of those are in China where, depending on the area, between 10-17 percent of the Chinese population are carriers.

Chronic hepatitis C affects nearly 170 million worldwide. About 150,000 new cases occur annually in the United States and in Western Europe, and about 350,000 in Japan.

Hepatitis C is mostly transmitted through needle sharing.

Gore said Britain had no figures on hepatitis B, but that 5,000 people were being treated for hepatitis C, with up to 15,000 new infections a year.

He warned that prevalence is increasing, "which shows we are not getting this awareness out there and changing people's behavior."

"More needs to be done to educate the public on the importance of vaccination for newborn babies, who must receive three jabs - immediately after birth, at one month and at sixth months," said Nancy Leung, a hepatitis specialist doctor in Hong Kong.

She said that while an increasing number of countries have universal vaccination, coverage is not full or is inefficient.

"If the mother doesn't see the importance, they don't bring the child back in 6 months and it is ineffective vaccination even if the system is in place," Leung said.


Image Caption: Transmission electron micrograph of Hepatitis B virus particles and surface antigen from blood. Courtesy Wikipedia


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