Today marks the first WHO-sponsored World Hepatitis Day, which draws attention to viral hepatitis and the diseases it causes. Last year, the World Health Organization called for a globally coordinated response to hepatitis, which kills more than 1 million people annually. Coordinated in partnership with the World Hepatitis Alliance, World Hepatitis Day provides an opportunity to recognize viral hepatitis as a major global health problem and to focus on strategies such as strengthening prevention, screening and control; increasing vaccine coverage and integration into national immunization programs; and coordinating a global response.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “vaccines are clearly making a difference” in work to prevent and control viral hepatitis.
“The hepatitis B vaccine is now offered to children in 178 countries worldwide, providing a level of protection that prevents more than 700,000 deaths from cirrhosis and liver cancer in each new generation,” CDC officials said in a statement.
“And because hepatitis D requires the presence of hepatitis B virus to cause infection, hepatitis B vaccination eliminates the risk of contracting hepatitis D. A vaccine that prevents hepatitis A has been effectively used since the 1990s. In development are promising new vaccines against hepatitis E, a common cause of waterborne hepatitis in Asia and Africa that disproportionately kills pregnant women. Unfortunately, vaccines against hepatitis C infection remain elusive.”
According to CDC, the first World Hepatitis Day honors the man who achieved one of the earliest successes in viral hepatitis prevention — Baruch Blumberg, who discovered the hepatitis B virus in 1967. Blumberg later developed an effective vaccine and won a Nobel Prize for his efforts. His discoveries were the first in a series of tools developed to combat viral hepatitis: diagnostic tests, new therapies and vaccines.
Hepatitis is caused by at least five viruses. Hepatitis A and E are spread by water or food contaminated with feces, while hepatitis B, D and C are transmitted by blood and body fluids. Hepatitis B and C infections can cause cirrhosis of the liver and lead to liver cancer.