Hepatitis A outbreak in Europe

Between June 2016 and May 2017, an unusual increase in cases of hepatitis A affecting mainly men who have sex with men (MSM) has been reported by low endemicity countries in the European Region.

15 countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) reported 1173 cases related to the 3 distinct multi-country hepatitis A outbreaks. Most of the affected countries have routinely recommended hepatitis A vaccine for MSM, but there is currently limited availability of this vaccine worldwide.

In Spain, hepatitis A cases reported in 2017 are almost 8 times higher than the average number of cases reported during the same period between the years 2012 and 2016. Most cases are men aged between 15 to 45 years old, and MSM are the most affected group.

For more information about preventing Hepatitis A outbreaks on the euro.who.int website

Safe blood transfusions in Italy

There have been no HIV or Hepatitis infections from blood transfusions in the last 10 years in Italy.

More than three million transfusions of blood components were made in 2015, with 1709 positive cases of HIV or Hepatitis detected in 1691 donors, who were therefore disqualified from giving blood. This screening system ensures the safety of receiving blood and its components.

To read more (in Italian) about safe blood transfusions on the salute.gov.it website

HIV & Hepatitis in Europe

There are 53 countries in the WHO European Region and within those countries there are 15 million people living with hepatitis C and 13.3 million people living with hepatitis B, the vast majority of whom are unaware of their infection and therefore at risk of developing cirrhosis or liver cancer. On average, fewer than 3% of patients with chronic hepatitis C receive treatment. In addition, there are 2.5 million people living with HIV, almost half of whom are unaware of their infection.

Safe and effective treatments exist that allow people living with HIV and/or viral hepatitis B to lead healthy and long lives. Those living with hepatitis C can be cured. Knowing your health status, however, is the prerequisite to accessing treatment and the WHO strongly supports the European HIV-Hepatitis initiative which aims to break the silence around HIV and viral hepatitis and build momentum to stop these epidemics by 2030.

Read more about HIV and Hepatitis in Europe on the euro.who.int website

Hepatitis – the “silent killer”

Hepatitis is often called the silent killer because globally 95% of people with hepatitis are unaware of their infection as most sufferers show no symptoms.

Over 13 million people in the European Region are estimated to be living with hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, and over 15 million with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. More than 400 people across the WHO European Region die from causes related to viral hepatitis every day.

Hepatitis B and C usually occur as a result of blood-to-blood contact with infected body fluids: for example, from blood transfusions or invasive medical procedures using contaminated equipment. They can also be transmitted through sexual contact, although this is less common with hepatitis C.

There is an action plan to address viral hepatitis in the WHO European Region and eliminate it as a public health threat by 2030.

To read more about the plan to eliminate viral hepatitis on the euro.who.int website

Action plans on HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis

Over 142 000 new HIV infections were diagnosed in the WHO European Region in 2015, the highest number ever. The HIV epidemic is driven by cases in the eastern part of the Region, where the number of new diagnoses has more than doubled during the past decade.

Over 13 million people in the Region are living with chronic hepatitis B infection and over 15 million with chronic hepatitis C infection. Two-thirds of those infected are in eastern Europe and central Asia. Hepatitis B and C infections lead to 400 deaths in the Region every day.

Two advisory committees met in April 2016 to guide new action plans on HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis for the WHO European Region 2016–2021. The aim of the new HIV/AIDS plan is to boost efforts initiated with the 2012–2015 plan to achieve zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths in the Region.

For more information about the Action Plans on the euro.who.int website

 

Viral hepatitis—400 deaths a day in Europe

Over 13 million people in the WHO European Region are living with chronic hepatitis B infection and over 15 million with chronic hepatitis C infection. Between them, these two diseases lead to 400 deaths in the Region every day. Many cases of viral hepatitis remain asymptomatic until decades after infection, slowly destroying the liver and eventually presenting as grave and deadly complications such as liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.

In most countries in the Region, the majority (in some countries, more than 75%) of people living with viral hepatitis do not know about their infection. Many became infected through blood transfusion or other medical procedures years ago when no tests were available and more than 20% will develop liver cirrhosis or cancer if the diseases are not diagnosed in time.

Several vulnerable population groups, particularly people who inject drugs, are at greatest risk of becoming infected. However, everyone is potentially at risk, because unsafe injections and other invasive procedures that can expose individuals to hepatitis C and hepatitis B viruses within and outside the health care sector still occur.

Even though blood safety and safe injecting practices in health care settings have improved in recent years, the hepatitis viruses continue to spread. In the past, viral hepatitis received little attention from policy-makers. Most countries have been reluctant to address viral hepatitis, such as ensuring access to treatment and prevention to all who need them and reducing the costs of drugs and diagnostics. Sexual transmission of viral hepatitis B is an ongoing issue, although universal vaccination to prevent this disease has been in place for over 20 years in most countries. Vaccination of newborns is the most effective, safest way to prevent mother-to-child transmission of viral hepatitis B, and the vaccine provides protection from the infection throughout life.

As transmission of hepatitis C and B viruses through blood and unsafe injection practices continues in the Region, there should be scaled-up prevention programmes for vulnerable groups based on evidence-based interventions, such as harm reduction for people who inject drugs and equal access to services and treatment. Recent revolutionary treatments for chronic hepatitis C have made it possible to cure more than 90% of infected people in just 3 months, without the severe adverse effects often seen with previous treatment regimens. Unfortunately new treatments are still unacceptably expensive and political will from both government and civil society organizations is needed to improve access to treatment and to ensure affordable prices.

WHO is working on a global strategy to combat viral hepatitis, which will include a comprehensive package of prevention measures and call for better access to treatment and better global awareness about viral hepatitis, the so-called “silent killer”.

To download a factsheet on Hepatitis B, click here    on www.euro.who.int

To download a factsheet on Hepatitis C, click here on www.euro.who.int