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Reuters Health Information (2011-07-26): Third of the world infected with hepatitis: WHO


Third of the world infected with hepatitis: WHO

Last Updated: 2011-07-26 14:18:06 -0400 (Reuters Health)

GENEVA (Reuters) - Around one third of the global population, or 2 billion people, are infected with hepatitis, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

"This is a chronic disease across the whole world, but unfortunately there is very little awareness, even among health policy-makers, of its extent," WHO hepatitis specialist Steven Wiersma told a news conference.

The conference marked the first U.N. World Hepatitis Day, called by the world body to raise awareness of the viral disease.

Wiersma said the disease takes a "staggering toll" on health care systems around the globe and has the potential to spark epidemics, as well as being the main cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.

A new WHO document says hepatitis B is the most common and could be transmitted by mothers to infants at birth or in early childhood as well as through contaminated injections or injected drug use.

Hepatitis E, transmitted through infected water or food, is a common cause of outbreaks of the disease in developing countries and is increasingly observed in developed economies, according to the WHO.

The WHO says effective vaccines have been developed against hepatitis A and B and could also be used against D. A vaccine for hepatitis E has been developed but is not widely available, while there is none for the C virus.

Vaccination campaigns had scored considerable success in many countries, with about 180 of the WHO's 193 member states now including the B vaccine in infant immunization programs, the agency said.

But more needs to be done to prevent or control the disease. It is vital to ensure that people already infected could receive quality care and treatment without delay, the WHO document declared.

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