Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) occurs due to damage and destruction of the liver cells, the so-called hepatocytes. The causes of hepatitis are varied: injury (e.g. liver contusion), medication, drugs, metabolic and autoimmune diseases or pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and parasites.

Viral hepatitis, which is caused by viruses, is a major public health threat and one of the leading causes of death worldwide, with an annual mortality rate comparable to other major infectious diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis.1,2 Since the discovery of the first specific biomarker for viral hepatitis in 1963, hepatology has become a priority area.3 Progress has been made - including the development of vaccines and cures - but viral hepatitis remains a global health burden, with many cases of acute and chronic infection showing no or only mild flu-like symptoms.1

Today, an estimated 90% of the 354 million people worldwide living with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and/or hepatitis C virus (HCV) are unaware of their disease.1 In Switzerland, an estimated 90,000 people live with chronic HBV or HCV infection, and many affected people are usually unaware of their infection.4,5 These viruses not only cause short-term (acute) infections, but often become persistent (chronic) and eventually lead to more serious and life-threatening conditions, such as cirrhosis (scarring of liver tissue), liver cancer and liver failure.1

Viral hepatitis is responsible for 1.34 million deaths worldwide - including liver cancer and cirrhosis - and in 2018 surpassed the number of deaths caused by HIV infection, tuberculosis or malaria.6

Despite vaccines against HBV and antiviral medications, more than 95% of people infected with hepatitis C can be cured.7,8 However, most people affected are unaware of their infection and/or do not have access to the testing and treatment they need.1

There are five types of hepatitis viruses (types A-E). Hepatitis A virus (HAV) can be transmitted through contaminated food and/or water, or through direct contact with an infected person. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C, on the other hand, are usually transmitted through the blood or other body fluids of an infected person.

Education is an essential part of eliminating viral hepatitis. Education campaigns can be an effective measure to counteract the frequent asymptomatic presentation of viral hepatitis. Encouraging high-risk groups to get tested can accelerate elimination efforts while helping to eliminate the stigma often associated with the infection.

Diagnosing viral hepatitis is an important first step in limiting the impact of the disease. Thanks to a United Nations decision on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,9 viral hepatitis will finally receive the attention it deserves as WHO has introduced global targets for the treatment and management of viral hepatitis. By 2030, WHO aims to achieve the following:

  • a 65% reduction in liver-related deaths

  • a 90% reduction in new viral hepatitis infections

  • a 90% diagnosis of patients with viral hepatitis.10

Although progress has been made in the fight against viral hepatitis, more remains 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. World Health Organization. Hepatitis. [Internet: cited July 11, 2023] Available from:

  2. Cooke GS, Andrieux-Meyer I, Applegate TL, et al. Accelerating the elimination of viral hepatitis: a Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology Commission [published correction appears in Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2019 May;4(5):e4]. Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2019;4(2):135-184. doi:10.1016/S2468-1253(18)30270-X

  3. Gerlich WH. Medical virology of hepatitis B: how it began and where we are now. Virol J. 2013;10:239. Published 2013 Jul 20. doi:10.1186/1743-422X-10-239

  4. Negro F et al.  The current and future burden of hepatitis B in Switzerland: a modelling study, Swiss Med Wkly. 2023;153:40086

  5. Bihl F et al. HCV disease burden and population segments in Switzerland. Liver International. 2022;42:330–339

  6. Thomas DL. Global elimination of chronic hepatitis. N Engl J Med. 2019;380:2041-2050.

  7. World Health Organization. Hepatitis B. [Internet: cited July 11, 2023] Available from:

  8. World Health Organization. Hepatitis C. [Internet: cited July 11, 2023] Available from:

  9. United Nations General Assembly Resolution. Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development [Internet: cited 2023 July 11] Available from:

  10. Global health sector strategies on, respectively, HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections for the period 2022-2030. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2022. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. [Internet: cited July 11, 2023] Available from:

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