Experts call for international effort to fight hepatitis

Experts recently called for an international effort to fight the growing numbers of hepatitis cases in intravenous drug users worldwide.

A report published in the British medical journal Lancet, released to coincide with World Hepatitis Day, says that only a fraction of those that need treatment with antiviral drugs are receiving them, according to News-Medical.net.

The study’s authors report that only one in five infants are vaccinated against hepatitis B at birth. Global estimates put the number of drug users with hepatitis B at 1.3 million and those with hepatitis C at 10 million.

Approximately 67 percent of intravenous drug users have been exposed to hepatitis C and 10 percent to hepatitis B. Close to half of all intravenous drug users in the U.K. have contracted hepatitis C and nine percent, the highest in Western Europe, have contracted hepatitis B, News-Medical.net reports.

Researchers said that the countries with the largest numbers of injecting drug users with hepatitis C are China, the United States and Russia. Mexico at 97 percent, Thailand at 90 percent and the Netherlands at 86 percent have some of the highest percentages of hepatitis prevalence among intravenous drug users.

“The public-health response to blood-borne virus transmission in injecting drug users has mainly centered on HIV,” the study’s authors said, News-Medical.net reports. “Maintenance and strengthening of the response to HIV in injecting drug users remains crucial, but the significance of viral hepatitis needs to receive greater attention than it does at present.”