Health: Hepatitis More Widespread Than HIV

“The world has ignored hepatitis at its peril. It is time to mobilise a global response to hepatitis on the scale similar to that generated to fight other communicable disease like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis,”  Margaret Chan, WHO’s director-general, said in a statement.

WHO lamented the situation, especially as there are at least 10 times more people living with hepatitis than with HIV.

Around the world, 400 million people are infected with Hepatitis B and C — more than 10 times the number of people living with HIV. An estimated 1.45 million people died of the disease in 2013 – up from less than a million in 1990.

Here are key facts to know about hepatitis


There are five different kinds of hepatitis: A,B,C,D,E. While there is an effective vaccine and treatment for Hepatitis B, none exists for C. However, there are oral medicines called direct-acting antivirals that can cure over 90 per cent of patients within 2–3 months.


According to WHO “Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease that can cause mild to severe illness.

It is is transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food and water or through direct contact with an infectious person and most infection is as a result of poor sanitation and lack of water.

Clean water, improved hygiene and sanitation and food safety and the vaccine are the best to fight Hepatitis A.

Most people will recover from this and gain a lifelong immunity and there is a safe and effective vaccine to prevent Hepatitis A.

Very few people will hepatitis A  could die from fulminant Hepatitis A.


This is viral and attacks the liver, causing both acute and chronic disease. It is transmitted through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person. According to WHO, “an estimated 240 million people are chronically infected with Hepatitis B (defined as Hepatitis B surface antigen positive for at least 6 months)”.

This poses a threat to health workers and is an occupational hazard. With over 686 000 people dying every year due to complications of hepatitis B, including cirrhosis and liver cancer, WHO insists that countries, especially the sub-Saharan African countries, must dedicate more resources to fighting the disease.

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There is, however, available safe and effective vaccine.



This also attacks the liver and can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis infection — severe, mild and lasting from a few weeks to forever.

It is “a bloodborne virus” and is mostly transmitted through “through unsafe injection practices, inadequate sterilization of medical equipment, and the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products, WHO says.

There are currently about 130–150 million people globally have chronic hepatitis C infection. Hepatitis B kills more people that hepatitis B with over 700 000 people dying yearly from related liver disease.

WHO says while antiviral medicines can cure up to 90% of hepatitis carriers, access to diagnosis and treatment is low.  Currently, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.


WHO defines this as “a ribonucleic acid (RNA) virus that requires hepatitis B virus (HBV) for its replication. HDV infection occurs only simultaneously or as super-infection with HBV”.

Like hepatitis B, the virus is transmitted through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person. Transmission from mother to child is rare. Hepatitis D can be prevented by getting hepatitis B vaccines as there is no antiviral treatment for this.  According to WHO, 15 million people across the world are chronically coinfected with HDV and HBV .


This is also a liver disease caused by infection with a virus known as hepatitis E virus (HEV) and there are “an estimated 20 million HEV infections worldwide, leading to an estimated 3.3 million symptomatic cases of hepatitis E1, and 56 600 hepatitis E-related deathS”, WHO explains

It can develop into acute liver failure and is transmitted the “faecal-oral route” mostly through dirty water.

There is a vaccine for this. It was developed in China and has been licensed in only that country.

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