CDC experts outline successes in fight against hepatitis

Kevin Fenton and Kevin M. De Cock of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a statement on Thursday as part of the first World Health Organization sponsored World Hepatitis Day.  
In the statement, they outlined the many successes and enormous challenges in the global effort to prevent and control hepatitis, which is caused by at least five viruses. Over 500 million people worldwide live with viral hepatitis and do not have access to adequate care.
Fenton and De Cock cited Dr. Baruch Blumberg, who discovered the hepatitis B virus in 1967 and later developed an effective vaccine, which earned him the Nobel Prize for his efforts. His discovery is now offered to children in 178 countries worldwide and prevents an estimated 700,000 deaths from cirrhosis and liver cancer in each generation.
While vaccines and tests for hepatitis have reduced disease and death, Fenton and De Cock also cited the challenges the disease presents.
"While we celebrate these gains, we have much more to do. In the United States, many if not most people living with hepatitis are not aware of their infection, and thus cannot benefit from the effective treatments that are available," Fenton and De Cock said. "Lack of progress in countries with fewer resources has been directly related to the inability to implement what works--providing clean water and guaranteeing a safe food supply, routinely offering the birth dose of hepatitis B vaccine and ensuring that every child receives three doses, educating health care providers and at-risk people about the importance of being tested, improving infection control procedures in health care facilities, and raising awareness of risk among injection drug users. We must redouble our commitment to ensure these effective tools are fully utilized to benefit all people at risk for viral hepatitis."
In the United States, an action plan called "Combating the Silent Epidemic of Viral Hepatitis: Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis" was created in an effort to raise public and provider awareness and to improve the prevention, care and treatment of the disease.
"To honor Dr. Blumberg's legacy, let us use all the tools at our disposal to stop the suffering caused by viral hepatitis," Fenton and De Cock said. "In the words of the WHO's 2010 report to the World Health Assembly, 'the time is right' and '[t]he impact of these efforts on mortality and morbidity will be significant because of the tremendous burden of disease.'"