Strategy to eliminate hepatitis B and C as public health threats published

Wednesday April 05 2017

A plan to eliminate hepatitis B and C as serious threats to public health by 2030 has been published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in the US.

These viruses currently kill more than 20,000 people every year in the US alone, but scientists believe that this number could be significantly reduced with a new strategy aimed at tackling the diseases.

The authors of the new report are of the view that a more rigorous approach to hepatitis testing could help to prevent further cases of the illness from being spread, as it often doesn't come with any symptoms, meaning sufferers could unwittingly be passing it on to their sexual partners.

More aggressive treatments will also need to be developed if the disease is to be eliminated as a public health threat by 2030, while more needle exchange programmes will need to be introduced to prevent drug users from transmitting hepatitis from used or broken needles.

In addition, sharps safety practices will have to be implemented more strictly in healthcare environments to prevent the occurrence of needlestick injuries, as these can lead to blood-borne infections such as hepatitis C being passed from person to person.

Brian Strom, chair of the committee behind the report, stated: "Viral hepatitis is simply not a sufficient priority in the United States.

"Despite being the seventh leading cause of death in the world - and killing more people every year than HIV, road traffic accidents or diabetes - viral hepatitis accounts for less than one per cent of the National Institutes of Health research budget."

However, by introducing more rigorous hepatitis B testing, it is thought that 90 per cent of cases of the disease could be diagnosed, with nine in ten of these patients then referred for treatment to get their illness under control.

As a result, the report authors believe that cases of liver cancer associated with hepatitis B would fall by around 45 per cent and more than 60,000 deaths from the disease would be prevented.

Similarly, testing for hepatitis C could lead to a 65 per cent reduction in deaths from the illness, alongside lowering the number of new infections from sexual contact or sharps injuries by as much as 90 per cent.

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