Viral hepatitis

Viral hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by one of the five hepatitis viruses: A, B, C, D and E. They are transmitted through different routes: Hepatitis A and E through contaminated food and water; Hepatitis B – through unsafe blood and other bodily fluids; Hepatitis C – mostly through infectious blood; and Hepatitis D – serving as an additional infection in the presence of Hepatitis B. These viruses all cause acute hepatitis which is characterized by fatigue, loss of appetite, fever and jaundice.

Most persons fully recover, but a small proportion of persons can die from acute hepatitis. In addition, hepatitis B and C infections can become chronic leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is estimated that approximately 1.4 million persons die each year from the various forms of viral hepatitis.

The hepatitis infections are present throughout the world. Data on the prevalence of infection are missing for many countries; however, estimated half a billion people are chronically infected with hepatitis B or C virus. Such chronic infections are responsible for an estimated 57% of cases of liver cirrhosis and 78% of cases of primary liver cancer.

Hepatitis infection can be prevented by providing safe food and water (hepatitis A and E), vaccines (hepatitis A, B, and E), screening of blood donations and provision of sterile injecting equipment and assuring infection control (hepatitis B and C). However, prevention and awareness efforts are largely insufficient. Chronic hepatitis B and C infections can be treated, but most people, especially those living in low- and middle-income countries do not have access to treatment because of lack of screening and clinical services and high prices of some of the hepatitis medicines.

WHO has been intensifying its efforts to support countries in addressing viral hepatitis. The Global Hepatitis Programme was established in 2011 following a World Health Assembly resolution which also identified July 28, World Hepatitis Day as an official WHO day. In 2014, the Global Hepatitis Programme was moved to the cluster of HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases to further accelerate these efforts while building necessary synergies to address viral hepatitis in people living with HIV.