Will Europe be Hepatitis Free by 2030?

World Hepatitis Day aims to increase awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis. The ECDC discusses Europe’s plan to eliminate hepatitis by 2030.

World Hepatitis Day (WHD), marked on July 28 each year, aims to increase awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis, a potentially deadly virus that causes inflammation in the liver, and if left unchecked, can progress into liver cirrhosis and cancer. A recently launched global strategy aims to eliminate hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV) as a public health threat by 2030 through the combination of stronger surveillance techniques, increased testing, and more available treatment programs. The strategy is aiming for a 90% drop in the number of chronically infected individuals as well as reduce the current mortality rate by 65%, according to an article by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Improved Surveillance Leads to Better Understanding of Hepatitis

According to Andrea Ammon, ECDC Acting Director, “…surveillance systems need to be improved because the current data sources in most countries of the European Union and European Economic Area (EU/EEA) are insufficient to adequately assess the actual burden of viral hepatitis.”

In an effort to improve current local surveillance systems, the ECDC is working closely with the Member States of EU/EEA to create and use other epidemiological methods such as seroprevalence and sentinel surveys. Through enhanced surveillance techniques, viral hepatitis can be identified and treated earlier on.

Testing Can Lead to Early Treatment Opportunities

According to the ECDC, one of the steps needed to meet their goal is to identify “those who might be unknowingly infected with viral hepatitis … through more testing.”

Vytenis Andriukaitis, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, explains, “Viral hepatitis continues to pose a serious health challenge in the European Union. Further efforts are needed to prevent and combat this disease, which is sometimes called ‘the silent killer’ as symptoms do not often appear until it is too late…the Commission is investing over 1 million euros in a new project to support early diagnosis of viral hepatitis.”

The European HIV-Hepatitis Testing Week, now in its fourth year, will take place from November 18-25, 2016; this year will be the second time that hepatitis testing will be included. Individuals who are interested in being tested can find HIV and hepatitis testing centers in their area through the official website.

HBV and HCV in Europe by the Numbers

According to the ECDC, new data has shown that there are nearly twice as many HCV cases than HBV cases in Europe. The data show that, “between 2006 and 2014, around 161,000 newly diagnosed cases of hepatitis B and more than 276,000 hepatitis C infections were recorded.” A total of 22,442 HBV cases and 35,321 HCV cases were reported in 2014 alone. The overall number of HCV cases both diagnosed and reported in EU/EEA for that period of time has increased by 28.7%.

According to the ECDC, “While the reported rate of acute HBV cases almost halved (54%) since 2006 — most likely a result of national vaccination programmes–rates of chronic cases have constantly gone up over time from 5.7 per 100 000 population in 2006 to 9.8 in 2014. This increase is probably due to changes in reporting methods as well as increases in local testing practices.”