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World Hepatitis Day 2021
Posted on July 15th, 2021 by Ann-Marie Roche in Pharma R&D
Every 30 seconds, a person dies from a hepatitis-related illness. This terrible death toll is why the mantra for World Hepatitis Day (July 28) this year is “Hepatitis Can’t Wait”.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, usually caused by a viral infection. Different hepatitis viruses are transmitted in different ways – for instance, Hepatitis A usually spreads via contaminated water and food, whereas Hepatitis B is transmitted through blood and bodily fluids. Hepatitis B & C are responsible for more deaths each year than HIV/AIDS. Most of the 300 million people worldwide who have the Hep B & C virus aren’t even aware that they have it, increasing the risk that they will not get treated and may pass it on to others.
This is especially tragic when you consider that there is a vaccine for Hepatitis B and good treatments are available for Hepatitis C. Eliminating viral hepatitis is a very real possibility, but greater awareness is desperately needed so that more people can actually get screened and treated for it.
The campaign to end hepatitis
World Hepatitis Day, which is sponsored by the World Health Organization, provides an opportunity to increase that awareness, and does so by encouraging individuals and organizations to take a variety of actions, such as creating social media posts and videos, putting up informative posters everywhere from pharmacies to houses of worship, writing local representatives about the issue and hosting events. (Find out more about how to get involved here.)
There are also campaign materials available in multiple languages to help get the word out around the world. After all, this is truly a global problem, one that affects everyone from children to migrants to people who use intravenous drugs.
A few facts about hepatitis:
* There are five main hepatitis viruses – A, B, C, D and E – and currently vaccines exist for A, B and E
* 290 million people living with viral hepatitis don’t know they have it
* Hepatitis B & C cause 1.4 million deaths each year
* 2/3 of liver cancer deaths results from Hepatitis B & C
* The CDC recommends the first dose of Hep B vaccine right after a child is born
* Even though the birthdose vaccine can cost as little as 20 cents, nearly half of countries don’t use it
The search for a Hepatitis C vaccine
Although there are effective treatments for Hepatitis C, no vaccine currently exists. There are a number of reasons for this, including the fact that the Hep C virus is very diverse, with multiple genotypes and many more subtypes. There is also the fact that more marginalized populations in non-industrialized nations tend to suffer most from this disease, resulting in fewer funds and less advocacy for vaccine development.
One trial for an experimental Hep C vaccine that had begun in 2012 was finally concluded in 2019 when it was determined that the vaccine wasn’t effective. But, in early 2020, Scripps Research lab scientists announced a new Hepatitis C vaccine design that they deemed promising. It is early stages yet, but the research team is hopeful that their design can meet the unique challenges presented by this “crafty” virus.
To access more resources (fact sheets, infographics, reports, etc) to help educate others on the fight against hepatitis on this World Hepatitis Day (and beyond), visit the World Hepatitis Alliance.
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