Worldwide 1.5 million people die yearly due to chronic hepatitis B or C

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Hep Central, our new national interactive hepatitis C website, is now live.

WORLD HEPATITIS DAY CELEBRATIONS

 You are invited to celebrate with The Hepatitis Foundation (NZ)              

                               WORLD HEPATITIS DAY

 

When:             12:30pm Thursday 26th July 2012

Where:            Front lawn outside the Beehive in Wellington

World Hepatitis Day is an official World Health Organisation awareness day. The aim is to prompt people to think about chronic hepatitis B and C on an international scale and to drive improvements in health outcomes for patients.

We are holding an event two days prior to the official World Hepatitis Day. Our event will be held in the public eye to bring hepatitis to the forefront of people’s minds. We have invited those living with chronic hepatitis B and C as well as those who work in the field to join together to celebrate the day. There will be a few speeches prior to the release of 1,000 balloons, each balloon signifying 120 people in New Zealand infected with chronic hepatitis B and C. Please show your support by joining us to celebrate World Hepatitis Day on Thursday 26th July 2012.

If you have any questions, please contact us on 0.

Kind regards,

John Hornell

Chief Executive Officer

The Hepatitis Foundation (NZ) 

Hepatitis B vaccine protects for 25 years - study

 

(Reuters) - Vaccination against hepatitis B seems to protect against the virus for 25 years, suggesting that booster shots are unnecessary, according to a study from Taiwan that covered several thousand people.

Taiwan began compulsory hepatitis B virus immunization for all infants in 1984, in response to extremely high rates of infection, and the study - which appeared in the Journal of Hepatology - suggests other countries might benefit from a similar move.

"Universal vaccination in infancy provides long-term protection," wrote lead author Yen-Hsuan Ni, from the National Taiwan University in Taipei.

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver and is a prime cause of liver cancer. The virus is spread by contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person.

In 2009, participants in the study who were younger than age 25 were far less likely to be infected with Hepatitis B than those between the ages of 26 and 30, who were born before universal vaccination, the researchers found.

"Its efficacy in young adults is clear," Ni told Reuters health, explaining that medical experts had questions about how long the vaccine's protective effect would last. Booster shots, which are generally not recommended for Hepatitis B, were not given to subjects in the study.

For the study, which was funded by the National Taiwan University Hospital, Ni and his colleagues enrolled more than 3,300 participants under 30.

Of these, more than 2,900 - born after the mandate - received at least three doses of vaccine in their first year. Approximately 370 subject, born before 1984, were not universally vaccinated.

When they collected blood samples from January to December 2009, Ni's team found that fewer than one percent of the universally vaccinated group carried the virus and were infectious to others, compared with 10 percent of those who weren't universally vaccinated.

Fifty-six percent of those born after universal vaccination developed immunity to the disease, versus 24 percent in the group born before it began. Seven percent of the group that was universally vaccinated had an infection in their history but possibly had recovered, compared with 28 percent of the group that was not.

The World Health Organization recommends hepatitis B shots for all babies. The vaccine comes in a three-part series. SOURCE:  (Reporting from New York by Aparna Narayanan at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies)

HEPATITIS C KILLING MORE AMERICANS THAN HIV

Hepatitis C has surpassed HIV as a killer of US adults, and screening all "baby boomers" could be one way to stem the problem, according to two new government studies.

 


Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by a virus of the same name that is usually passed through contact with infected blood. An estimated 75 to 85 percent of infections become chronic, which can eventually cause serious diseases like cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.

In one of the new studies, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that by 2007, hepatitis C was killing more Americans than HIV -- the virus that causes AIDS.

In 2007, hepatitis C killed 15,100 Americans, accounting for 0.6 percent of all deaths that year. That compared with a little over 12,700 deaths related to HIV.

Those numbers are based on death certificates, and almost certainly underestimate the real scope, according to the CDC. Compared with HIV, hepatitis C infection is more likely to still be unrecognized at the time of a person`s death.

"Hepatitis C mortality has, regrettably, been on the rise for a number of years," said Dr. John Ward, director of the CDC`s viral hepatitis division and an author of the new study.

But, he told Reuters Health, "many of those deaths could be prevented."

Of the estimated 3.2 million Americans with chronic hepatitis infection, about half of them don`t know it, according to the CDC.

That`s because the initial infection causes no symptoms in most cases. Instead, the virus silently damages the liver over the years, and people may only discover they are infected when they develop irreversible liver cirrhosis.

Chronic hepatitis C is most common in "baby boomers" -- about two thirds of US infections are in people born between 1945 and 1964, Ward`s team notes in their report, which is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

That predominance among boomers has a lot to do with casual injection-drug use back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, since sharing tainted needles is a major route for passing on the virus.

Some people also contracted hepatitis C through blood transfusions during that era. Since 1992, all blood donations in the US have been tested for hepatitis C.

Baby boomers with hepatitis C are now getting to an age where the consequences of the infection would be evident, said Dr. Harvey Alter, a researcher with the National Institutes of Health who wrote an editorial on the new studies.

"The big issue is that most people with chronic infection are still not identified," Alter told Reuters Health.

Right now, health officials recommend that certain people at increased risk have blood tests to be screened for hepatitis C. That includes anyone who`s used injection drugs, people who received blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992 and people with HIV.

"But that approach hasn`t been very effective," Alter said.

Another option, Ward said, would be to screen all baby boomers.

Experts are only seriously considering that option now because of recent advances in hepatitis C treatment.

Before 1990, the infection was virtually incurable. Then researchers found that a combination of two medicines, interferon and ribavirin, could boost the cure rate to 45 percent ("cure" meaning the virus is cleared from the body).

The downside is that the regimen is hard to take. Interferon has to be injected, and the whole treatment course takes about a year. The drugs can also have side effects ranging from flu-like symptoms to sleep problems to depression.

Less than a year ago, the U.S. approved two new oral drugs that, when added to the old regimen, send the cure rate to 70 percent. Adding either one of the drugs -- boceprevir (Victrelis) or telaprevir (Incivek) -- can also cut the treatment time to about six months in some people.

The side effects are still there with the triple-drug approach. But with the high possibility of a cure, more people with chronic hepatitis C may want treatment, both Ward and Alter said.

So in a second study, the CDC researchers estimated the cost-effectiveness of doing one-time hepatitis C screening in all Americans born between 1945 and 1965.

They calculated that compared with the "status quo," screening baby boomers would catch an extra 808,580 cases of hepatitis C, at a cost of almost $2,900 for each one.

Ultimately, screening would prevent an extra 82,000 deaths, the CDC estimates -- assuming a certain percentage of people agree to treatment with interferon and ribavirin.

As far as cost-effectiveness, Ward said, that would put baby-boomer screening in line with other widely accepted types of screening, like tests for colon cancer and high blood pressure.

If screened people received one of the new hepatitis C drugs, that would save even more lives -- an additional 121,000 over current screening policy, the CDC says. But the cost would be greater, since both new drugs are very expensive.

Incivek costs nearly $50,000 for the whole course, while Victrelis rings up at roughly $26,000 to $48,000 depending on the duration of treatment.

Still, Alter, who supports baby boomer screening, said the approach looks to be "very cost-effective" -- especially when compared to the costs of treating cirrhosis and liver cancer, which are the most common reasons for liver transplants.

"The beauty of this is, it`s six months to one year of treatment," Alter said.

Both Alter and Ward also pointed to other medications now in the drug industry`s pipeline that are aimed at taking interferon injections out of the equation.

"Hopefully, we`ll soon have oral therapies that are easier to take and have fewer adverse effects," Alter said.

For now, the screening focus in the US is on baby boomers. Whether it could be a good idea in younger generations is not clear.

New hepatitis C infections in the US are down sharply since the 1980s, according to a CDC study published last year.

In the mid-1980s, roughly 70 of every million Americans developed acute hepatitis C each year. Between 1994 and 2006, that rate was 90 percent lower: only seven per million per year.

As it stands, there are roughly 18,000 new hepatitis C infections each year -- most of which occur in injection-drug users.

Liver cancer a deadly opponent

The death of legendary world heavyweight boxer Joe Frazier from liver cancer is a sad reminder of the seriousness of the disease.

Liver cancer often occurs after the cancer has originated somewhere else in the body, such as the large bowel or breast. This type of cancer is known as metastatic cancer.

However, it can also be a primary cancer. Although there are several organ structures in the liver, the most common type of cancer originating there is known as hepato cellular liver cancer (HCC), which originates from hepatocytes. This is what Frazier died of.

Liver cancer is very aggressive, with 98 per cent of those diagnosed with it dying within five years.

It is a common form of cancer, the third to fifth most common form of the disease in the world, depending on where you live.

In New Zealand, the average age of a liver cancer patient is between 60 and 80. In developing countries, where the risk factors for liver cancer (hepatitis B and C and excessive alcohol use) are more prevalent, people with the disease are in their 30s and 40s.

Men are three times more likely to develop liver cancer than women.

We began to offer hepatitis B vaccinations to children in New Zealand in the 1980s and hopefully this will result in a decrease in HCC during the next 10 to 20 years.

This is especially important in populations such as Maori, who have a higher prevalence of hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B can cause long-term inflammation in the liver if left untreated and can produce liver damage and cirrhosis, which may ultimately lead to HCC.

This is also true of hepatitis C, another virus.

Thankfully, there are medications which can eliminate these viruses and lower the risk of HCC developing.

It appears that chronic hepatitis B viremia can introduce genetic material into the liver cells. This material can upset the genetic makeup of the cells, thus causing them to become cancerous.

It is less clear how hepatitis C causes liver cancer, because its viral genetic material does not seem to make its way into the cells. It may well be that hepatitis C is an indirect cause.

Excessive alcohol use is the most common cause of liver cancer.

The symptoms of liver cancer, unfortunately, are ubiquitous. Unintentional weight loss, ascites (abdominal fluid and swelling) and becoming jaundiced may suggest the disease is present.

The key to prevention is to try to reduce the incidence of hepatitis B, in particular, as well as hepatitis C, and to make people aware of the dangers of alcohol.

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