Viral hepatitis was linked to more deaths across the European Union than HIV/AIDS, according to results from a study presented Friday at the International Liver Congress in London. The Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 (GBD 2010) is a large collaborative study from researchers across the globe that attempts to quantify the magnitude of diseases, injuries, and risk factors according to people’s age, sex, and geography over time.
In Friday's announcement, the Vice Secretary of the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) Laurent Catera said that the data show hepatitis B and C must now be counted “among the top global and local priorities for health.”
"Additional resources are needed to prevent, detect and treat hepatitis B and C in order to address these imbalances in major preventable causes of human death," Castera said.
According to the GBD 2010, 10 times more people died from viral hepatitis than AIDS-related deaths in the EU. Two of the most common strains of hepatitis, hepatitis C (HCV) and hepatitis B (HBV) resulted in approximately 90,000 deaths. AIDS-related deaths counted to about 8,000.
Hepatitis is a swelling or inflammation of the liver, most often resulting from viruses. Some causes of hepatitis include exposure to toxins, reactions to particular drugs, heavy alcohol use, and parasites. Under the general term "hepatitis" are five types of viral infections known as hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E — each with different methods of transmission and prognoses. Hepatitis C is transferrable by coming into contact with infected blood or body fluids, such as needle-sharing during intravenous drug use. Hepatitis B, which is also found in bodily fluids like blood, semen, and vaginal fluids, can be transferred through sex or the sharing of needles, toothbrushes, or razors. If a mother has hepatitis B or C, she can transmit the disease to her child in childbirth. When left treated, viral hepatitis can result in liver cancer or the need for a transplant.
On Thursday, at the International Liver Congress, a number of studies were presented that introduced possible new treatments for hepatitis C, including a two-drug combination from pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. The Phase II trial for this therapy reported that 98 percent of untreated patients were cured of hepatitis C.
The high death rates of hepatitis presented today are only one part of the broad GBD 2010, which examines 291 diseases to identify trends in human death across the globe. By trying to quantify the causes and distribution of diseases and health risk factors, GBD 2010 could give health authorities worldwide an idea of what areas need attention. At the conference, Castera said that the GBD 2010 makes a “contribution to our understanding of present and future health priorities for countries and the global community.”
The GBD 2010 compiled data about causes of death related to HCV, HBV, and AIDS from countries as well as regions within countries between 1990 and 2010. The study found that outside of the EU, the mortality rate of HIV and hepatitis increased over the years, but HIV ranked sixth in leading causes of death (at 1.47 million deaths), while hepatitis ranked 9th (at 1.29 million).