Unexplained Outbreak of Hepatitis C
On World Hepatitis Day, we continue to raise awareness of Hepatitis C with an update on the virus. Viral hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, which can result from heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications and certain medical conditions1. The liver is a large organ in the abdomen, which is responsible for performing many important bodily functions, including blood filtering2. The most common hepatitis viruses in Europe are types A, B, C and E3. Symptoms of viral hepatitis can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, joint pain, and jaundice. These symptoms can last from a few weeks to several months and in some cases can lead to a serious, life-long chronic infection1.
Viral hepatitis can be spread through infection with tainted bodily fluids, ingestion of contaminated foods or contact with infected objects. Those at particular risk include international travellers, pregnant women, and immunocompromised patients. Typically, all children and infants are vaccinated against Type A and B hepatitis, however, there is currently no vaccine available for Hepatitis C, which is the cause of the long-life infection1. It is estimated that 50% of people who are infected with Hepatitis C, do not know they are infected1. Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver transplants worldwide. To date, there are currently 9,400,000 people receiving treatment for chronic hepatitis C viral infections with 1 million deaths every year due to cirrhosis and liver cancer4.
The world is currently facing a new outbreak of unexplained acute hepatitis infections which are mainly affecting children4. The World Health Organisation (WHO), together with scientists and policymakers, are working to discover the cause of this infection, as it appears to not belong to any of the 5 known types of hepatitis: A, B, C, D and E4. Global efforts to eliminate hepatitis infections are ongoing, the WHO aims to eliminate this disease by 2030. To achieve this goal, countries will need to reduce new levels of infection, reduce associated deaths, attain quicker hepatitis diagnosis, and provide appropriate treatments.
Currently, there is no specific treatment for hepatitis, other than to relieve the symptoms like pain and nausea5. Anti-viral medications can help to fight the virus and slow its ability to cause damage to the liver. With global immunisation coverage dropping from 86% in 2019 to 83% in 2020, and an estimated 23 million children under the age of 1 not receiving basic vaccines, education regarding the seriousness of hepatitis infection is key6.
References 1https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/abc/index.htm 2https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/21481-liver 3https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/viral-hepatitis 4https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-hepatitis-day/2022 5https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis/