Viral Hepatitis Is Now a Leading Cause of Death Worldwide

An analysis of patients in 183 countries over 23 years revealed that death due to viral hepatitis is becoming more common.

An analysis of patients in 183 countries over 23 years revealed that death due to viral hepatitis is becoming more common.

Researchers from Imperial College London and University of Washington dove further into the data, collected from 1990 to 2013. Viral hepatitis comes in five forms — A, B, C, D, and E. However, 96% of the deaths evaluated were caused by hepatitis B and C – both which can result in cirrhosis and liver cancer.

“This is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the global burden of viral hepatitis. And it reveals startling findings — showing the death toll from this condition is now 1.45 million,” Graham Cooke, MD, PhD, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, said in a news release.

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Malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis (TB) are leading causes of death worldwide — claiming 855,000, 1.3 million, and 1.4 million lives in 2013 alone, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. But these numbers are lower than they were in 1990. Viral hepatitis deaths, however, have increased by 63%.

As for why this is the case, there’s no one factor. There are effective vaccines and treatments out there, but financial obstacles don’t allow the necessary supplies to get to the people who need them, as described in The Lancet.

“We have tools at our disposal to treat the disease — we have vaccines to hepatitis A and B, and we have new treatments to C. However, the price of new medicines is beyond the reach of any country – rich or poor,” Cooke explained.

Disease burden is beginning to level out between higher and lower income nations. In fact, this analysis showed that there were more deaths from viral hepatitis in countries with high and middle income when compared to lower income countries. Most of the deaths in this study were found in East Asia.

Another problem is that hepatitis B and C infection can become a long-term illness and, with few immediate symptoms, these infections can progress quickly. The researchers calculated the years of life lost among patients and found more than 41 million in 2013.

Doctors have the tools to prevent and treat viral hepatitis, but now the challenge is making them affordable and accessible to everyone, the report noted..

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