- Last Updated on 05 December 2012
Hepatitis B and C
The WHO estimates that 240 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis B (HBV) and 170 million are chronically infected with hepatitis C (HCV). These numbers far exceed the number of people living with HIV, estimated at 34 million.
People who inject drugs (PWID) are a key population affected by HBV and HCV. There are approximately 16 million people who inject drugs in 148 countries. In 2011, it was estimated that 1.2 million people who inject drugs are infected with HBV and 10 million people who inject drugs are infected with HCV.
For people who inject drugs, HBV and HCV are most commonly transmitted by sharing contaminated injecting equipment. The major modes of viral hepatitis transmission include unsterile medical injections, blood transfusions, sexual intercourse and injecting drug use. HCV, however, is rarely transmitted sexually. In more recent years, as increased screening of blood products and the use of sterile equipment for medical injection has reduced transmission via these routes, injecting drug use has become proportionately more important as a vector for viral hepatitis transmission. Both HBV and HCV can cause acute inflammatory hepatitis that can result in fulminant liver failure. Chronic infection can result in liver fibrosis and ultimately cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma – conditions resulting in increased mortality. Both HBV and HCV can complicate HIV treatment, and HCV can accelerate the progression of HIV disease.
Preventive programmes should be implemented and the target audience includes health professionals, policymakers, national programme managers, researchers, nongovernmental organisations, community and civil society organisations, and PWID. Therefore, Needles and Syringes Programmes should be implemented to prevent these infections, but the existent programmes are not sufficient, because it is estimated that globally only 22 syringes are provided per year per person who injects drugs.
A vaccination can prevent infections with Hepatitis B.
No vaccine has yet been discovered for Hepatitis C.
In both cases of infection, the virus cannot be eradicated from bodily fluids, but a treatment that prevents the complications and protects the liver should be established in the earlier phases.
Source: WHO, CDC