The World Health Organization (WHO) aims to eliminate viral hepatitis as a health problem by 2030. The goal is threatened because identification and treatment of infected people are not sufficiently effective. Worldwide hepatitis B and C cause approximately 8000 new Infections every day. Only 10 % of hepatitis B infected and 21 % hepatitis C infected are aware of the infection and, respectively, only 2 % and 13 % of those who have been infected have been treated.
Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood and the most significant risk factor is injecting drug use. The infected person often does not know about his infection because hepatitis C is usually asymptomatic. Only one in four infected people in the early stages of infection receive symptoms such as loss of appetite, fatigue, fever, joint and muscle pain, and jaundice.
Most hepatitis C infected people remain carriers of the virus, meaning that the infection is chronic. Chronic infection predisposes to cirrhosis of the liver, which is the highest risk factor for liver cancer in Europe. There is no vaccine against hepatitis C. However, a timely found hepatitis C infection and its treatment will help prevent the health damage caused by infection and reduce the further spread of infections.
If we want to achieve the target set by the WHO, immediate action is needed: sufficient resources and properly targeted and effective measures. Since injecting drug use is the most significant risk factor for hepatitis C infection, prevention methods especially targeted to this group are needed, such as increasing information, exchanging used injecting equipment to clean ones and increase of opioid substitution therapy.
However, preventive measures alone are not enough. Testing and availability of treatment need to be improved, especially among people who inject drugs and prisoners. With current virus specific drugs, treatment of hepatitis C is simple and effective.
Everyone has the right to receive the treatment they need.
Text: Henrikki Brummer-Korvenkontio, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), Member of the NDPHS Expert Group on HIV, TB, and Associated Infections