Preventing hepatitis B and C

WHO/Europe’s efforts for the prevention and treatment of hepatitis focus on types B and C. These are the most prevalent types in the WHO European Region, where 13.3 million people are estimated to live with hepatitis B, and 15 million with hepatitis C. Of those infected, over          120 000 die every year. Two thirds of the people in the Region with hepatitis B and C live in eastern Europe and central Asia.

Hepatitis: prevention, diagnosis and treatment

Hepatitis is a viral infection that attacks the liver. The virus is transmitted through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person. Type B can cause both acute and chronic disease. Routine immunization of newborn babies and children with hepatitis B vaccine is the best measure to take. Most countries in the European Region have introduced such immunization, which will ultimately lead to generations free of hepatitis B.

Hepatitis C can cause both acute and chronic infection, ranging in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. The hepatitis C virus is transmitted through blood, and people typically become infected due to unsafe injection practices, inadequate sterilization of medical equipment in some health-care settings, and unscreened blood and blood products.

No vaccine is available against hepatitis C, so the disease must be tackled by improving prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Understanding the disease and following safe injecting practices are the best means of prevention. A new and effective treatment against hepatitis C is now available, to which all people in need should have access.  

Global hepatitis burden and WHO response

Viral hepatitis – the group of infectious diseases called hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E – affects close to 500 million of people worldwide, killing close to 1.4 million people every year. Hepatitis remains largely ignored or unknown.

WHO and Member States have made significant advances in tackling the disease in 2014.

  • In March, participants at WHO’s first global meeting of partners on hepatitis made a historic “Call to action to scale up the global hepatitis response”.
  • In April, WHO issued new recommendations for treating hepatitis C.
  • In May, the World Health Assembly (delegates from 194 Member States) adopted a resolution on improving the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of viral hepatitis.

World Hepatitis Day

Every year on 28 July, WHO and its partners mark World Hepatitis Day, to increase the awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis and the diseases that it causes. In 2014, they urge policy-makers, health workers and the public to “Think again” about this silent killer.

The date of World Hepatitis Day was chosen to honour the birthday of Nobel Laureate Professor Baruch Samuel Blumberg, of the United States of America, who discovered the hepatitis B virus.