World Hepatitis Day: More must be done to stop this silent killer

This is hepatitis...Know it. Confront it.

About 1 million deaths per year are attributed to viral hepatitis infections. Together, hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) are the leading cause of liver cancer in the world, accounting for 78 percent of cases.

Hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E can cause acute and chronic infection and inflammation of the liver leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer. These viruses constitute a major global health risk with around 240 million people being chronically infected with hepatitis B and around 150 million people being chronically infected with hepatitis C.

Hepatitis A and E are typically caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B, C and D usually occur as a result of parenteral contact with infected body fluids. Common modes of transmission for these viruses include receipt of contaminated blood or blood products, invasive medical procedures using contaminated equipment and for hepatitis B transmission from mother to baby at birth, from family member to child, and also by sexual contact.

Acute infection may occur with limited or no symptoms, or may include symptoms such as jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Hepatitis in Thailand

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is endemic in Thailand where historically infection rates are very high in infants, and continue through early childhood. Between 6 and 12 per cent of Thais over 40 develop chronic hepatitis B after being infected during childhood. According to the latest estimates from the Ministry of Public Health, in 2011 almost 3.5 million Thais had chronic hepatitis B infection. This can have serious long term consequences since in Thailand; chronic hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver cancer.

However, the rate of new hepatitis B infections appears to be decreasing since the introduction of HBV vaccine into the national EPI program in 1992. According to the WHO-UNICEF estimates in 2012, over 98% of Thai children receive all the required doses of HBV vaccine.

The prevalence of Hepatitis C remains moderate in Thailand. WHO estimated that in 2012, between 1.5-3.5% of the Thai population are infected with Hepatitis C. This means that at least 1.2 million Thais are susceptible to chronic liver disease and cancer due to this virus.

What WHO is doing on hepatitis?

WHO has worked closely with Member States to achieve some very notable achievements in hepatitis prevention. In 2009, over 91% of Member States now include the hepatitis B vaccine in their infant immunization programs and over 70% of infants received 3 doses of this vaccine which provides them with life-long protection from this one virus.

Recognizing the tremendous burden caused by viral hepatitis, the World Health Assembly adopted resolution WHA63.18 in 2010, calling for a comprehensive approach to the prevention and control of viral hepatitis.

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