Deaths From Viral Hepatitis Are on the Rise

Viral hepatitis is now the second leading infectious cause of death globally after tuberculosis, the World Health Organization’s report reveals.

Viral hepatitis testing and treatment coverage rates have stalled despite improved diagnostic and treatment tools and decreasing product prices, according to the report released at the World Hepatitis Summit.

Deaths from viral hepatitis increased from 1.1 million in 2019 to 1.3 million in 2022, the WHO data from 187 countries shows.

Most (83%) of these deaths were caused by hepatitis B and 17% by hepatitis C. These infections claim 3,500 lives every day.

“This report paints a troubling picture: despite progress globally in preventing hepatitis infections, deaths are rising because far too few people with hepatitis are being diagnosed and treated,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

In 2022, there were 2.2 million new infections of viral hepatitis, a slight decrease from 2.5 million in 2019.

Viral hepatitis is an infection that causes liver inflammation and damage. Many people with the condition do not have symptoms and are unaware of the infection.

Both hepatitis B and C can lead to a life-long infection known as chronic hepatitis, in which symptoms may take decades to develop.

Only 13% of people living with chronic hepatitis B infection globally had been diagnosed, and about 3% had received antiviral therapy by the end of 2022, the WHO report shows.

The numbers are slightly more promising for chronic hepatitis C: one in three (36%) people had been diagnosed, and 20% had received curative treatment.

However, these results fall well below the global targets to treat 80% of people living with chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C by 2030.

Vaccines are available

Hepatitis B and C viruses can also cause acute infections, the symptoms of which can appear anytime from two weeks to six months after exposure. They may include the following:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine and/or light-colored stools
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice

Vaccines are only available against hepatitis A and B and are recommended for all children and adolescents younger than 19 years old, as well as adults at a high risk of the infection.

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