Despite the burden it places on communities across the world, hepatitis appears to have been largely ignored as a public health concern: Hepatitis B and C are among the most common viral infections in the world. It is estimated that about 325 million people worldwide have hepatitis B or C virus infections. Viral hepatitis caused 1.34 million deaths in 2015, a number comparable to deaths caused by tuberculosis and higher than those caused by HIV.1All from an illness that is highly treatable.

With the availability of direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) that can now completely cure most hepatitis C (HCV) carriers within 3–6 months, 2there’s no need for the death toll to increase as predicted.3

Equally important to treatment of course is to avoid further dissemination of the virus which is tricky as one of the greatest obstacles to preventing the spread of hepatitis is that carriers can show no symptoms for decades.4

Supporting treatment decisions

Before hepatitis can be treated, however, it must be diagnosed.

Symptoms of viral hepatitis often resemble the flu; though, many HCV and hepatitis B (HBV) carriers don’t have any symptoms until and unless liver damage becomes very serious. HCV or HBV carriers may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Grey-coloured faeces
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice

An in vitro laboratory diagnostic test is therefore crucial to confirm a diagnosis.

The results from these tests not only help doctors diagnose an infection, but also determine how advanced the disease is. Doctors are also looking to these diagnostic tests to see if the patient is responding to the treatment. In cases with no response, treatment may need to be changed or stopped.

In chronic HCV patients, diagnostic tests can also identify virus genotypes in the blood. This information is useful for doctors, enabling them to personalise patient and disease management which on the other hand leads to higher curing rates (up to 90% of patients5), less side effects and shorter treatment times.

Understanding viral hepatitis

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a virus. There are five main types of viral hepatitis, the most common being hepatitis A (HAV), B (HBV) and C (HCV). You can contract HAV by ingesting contaminated food and/or water. It is also spread through direct contact with an infected person. HBV and HCV, on the other hand, are generally spread via the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person.

In addition to causing short-term (acute) infections, HBV and HCV infections often become persistent (chronic), eventually leading to more serious and life-threatening conditions such as liver cirrhosis and cancer.

Beyond awareness

Thanks to a United Nations resolution on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,6 viral hepatitis will finally get the awareness it deserves as the WHO introduced global targets for care and management of viral hepatitis. By 2030, WHO aims to achieve:

  • A 65% reduction in liver-related deaths
  • A 90% reduction of new viral hepatitis infections
  • The diagnosis of 90% of patients with viral hepatitis.7

Although we have made progress in combatting viral hepatitis, there’s more to be done. Roche is committed to the fight against viral hepatitis, and continues to look for new and innovative ways to prevent, test and treat viral hepatitis.

References

  1. Global Hepatitis Report 2017—World Health Organization, April 2017
  2. WHO:  http://www.who.int/hepatitis/en/
  3. Global Hepatitis Report 2017—World Health Organization, April 2017
  4. WHO Global Hepatitis Report, 2017
  5. Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis 2016−2021. WHO. July 2016.
  6. United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/70/1—Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, see http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/70/1&Lang=E (accessed 1 June 2017)
  7. Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis 2016-2021. WHO. July 2016

Tags: Diagnostics, Patients, Science