About Viral Hepatitis

Viral Hepatitis

Hepatitis refers to liver inflammation that is often caused by viral infection. There are five different types of hepatitis virus (A, B, C, D & E) but only B, C and D can become chronic, leading to long-term damage to the liver. Chronic hepatitis is also a leading cause of liver cancer.

Chronic hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) together affect more than 300 million people globally, with more than one million dying as a result of these infections per year.

More people die as a result of viral hepatitis in the Asia Pacific per year than from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Despite having similar impact, hepatitis lacks the level of awareness and political momentum these infectious diseases enjoy.

Asia Pacific is the centre of this global epidemic and is where most people with viral hepatitis live, accounting for almost 50 percent of all infections worldwide. China and India alone have a combined estimate of 123 million people chronically infected with HBV and 59 million people chronically infected with HCV. In Asia Pacific 1 million people die per year from viral hepatitis, a death rate three times higher than deaths from HIV/AIDS.

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A Brief History of
Viral Hepatitis

The word “hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver: hepa, from the Greek word for liver, and itis meaning inflammation. Inflammation of the liver can be caused by a viral infection, result from an autoimmune disease of the liver, or exposure to alcohol, drugs or chemicals including fertilizers. Five hepatitis viruses have been identified: hepatitis B and hepatitis C can become chronic infections in most people exposed to the viruses, and globally are the cause of most deaths and ill-health resulting from viral hepatitis.

A protein from the surface of the hepatitis B virus was identified in 1963 by Baruch Blumberg working alongside Harvey Alter. Blumberg, a geneticist, had spent the 1950s collecting blood, and by using blood proteins from Indigenous people sought to understand why some people and ethnicities were more susceptible to certain diseases. At the same time Alter, a haematologist working with the United States National Institutes for Health Blood Bank, was trying to understand why some patients developed a reaction after receiving a blood transfusion. Blood was tested from their respective studies with a similar protein found in the blood of a person with haemophilia from New York and that of an Australian Aboriginal. The protein was initially named the Australia antigen and its discovery provided the pathway for developing specific prevention interventions including the screening of the blood supply in the US from 1969 and the patent of a hepatitis B vaccine in 1972.

In the early 1970s, the cause of infectious hepatitis was found and named the hepatitis A virus (HAV). Unlike hepatitis B and hepatitis C which are blood borne viruses, the risk of hepatitis A infection is associated with unsafe water, and poor sanitation and hygiene. In 1989 hepatitis C virus (HCV) was isolated. While there is also a vaccine for hepatitis A, and no vaccine for hepatitis C, most people with hepatitis C can be cured after a short treatment course.

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The Coalition to Eradicate Viral Hepatitis in Asia Pacific (CEVHAP), established in October 2010, is a multidisciplinary body advocating public policy reforms aimed at reducing the burden of viral hepatitis in Asia-Pacific.

WHA Member

CEVHAP is proud to be a member of the World Hepatitis Alliance since September 2019.

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