Viral Hepatitis a Leading Global Killer

Viral Hepatitis a Leading Global KillerViral Hepatitis a Leading Global Killer

Compared with most other communicable diseases, hepatitis has risen in global importance since the 1990s. It is now a leading cause of death and disability worldwide and kills at least as many people as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, or malaria. This is the main finding of an international study - led by Imperial College London in the United Kingdom and the University of Washington in Seattle - published in The Lancet.

The study analyzes data from 1990-2013 on 183 countries.

The findings should prove of “crucial importance to global health policy,” note the authors.

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver, an important organ that processes nutrients, filters the blood, and fights infection. If the liver becomes damaged or inflamed, then these functions are impaired.

While heavy use of alcohol, toxins, some drugs, and certain medical conditions can cause hepatitis, it is most often caused by a virus, of which there are five types: A, B, C, D, and E.

Hepatitis is mostly spread through contact with bodily fluids, except for types A and E, which spread through food or drink contaminated with feces.

Most deaths worldwide due to hepatitis are due to types B and C, which cause liver damage (cirrhosis) and liver cancer. Symptoms of these infections include fatigue, jaundice (yellowing of the skin), and nausea. However, some infected people do not have symptoms, and they may not find out they have hepatitis until they develop serious complications.

For their study, researchers analyzed data from the World Health Organization Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study.

They assessed deaths from hepatitis A, B, C, and E (hepatitis D only infects people who already have type B).

They found that annual deaths from acute infection, cirrhosis, and liver disease caused by viral hepatitis worldwide went up from 890,000 in 1990 to 1.45 million in 2013 - an overall increase of 63%.

The finding puts viral hepatitis on a par with the world’s leading infectious diseases. In 2013, for example, 1.3 million people worldwide died from AIDS, 1.4 million from tuberculosis (TB), and 855,000 from malaria, note the authors.

Corresponding author Dr. Graham Cooke, from the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial, describes the finding as “startling” because global deaths from other leading infectious diseases - such as TB and malaria - have dropped since 1990.

The team also discovered that deaths from viral hepatitis were higher in high and middle-income countries than lower income countries and that the overall burden of the disease is now more evenly divided between rich and poor nations.

The analysis reveals that most deaths to viral hepatitis occurred in East Asia, and that types B and C accounted for the majority of deaths globally.