July 28, Thursday, is World Hepatitis Day – an occasion to raise awareness about the notorious group of infectious diseases affecting millions across the world. In a statement on Wednesday, Health Ministry hailed a decline in the number of cases but also warned the public to take protective measures as the “most efficient way to prevent infections outside vaccination.”
Some 1.1 million people die every year from Hepatitis B and C infections, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) while about 9.4 million people undergo treatment for chronic hepatitis C infection.
Most infections are noticed late by patients as their symptoms only become apparent in the late stages of the disease. Only 10% of people with chronic infection with hepatitis B are diagnosed, while another 22% receive treatment. Globally, only 42% of children have access to the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine.
The ministry said Turkey managed to decrease the prevalence rate of hepatitis A to 0.20 per 100,000 people in 2021, from 0.30 in 2019, thanks to widespread compliance with hygiene rules, more access to clean water resources, improvement of socioeconomic conditions and hepatitis A vaccination work which began late 2012. Since 1998, the children have been included in a hepatitis B vaccination program in the country, while the country launched a widespread inoculation drive at schools and for risk groups between 2005 and 2009. As of 2021, the third dose vaccination rate for hepatitis B exceeded 95% in the country.
Professor Neşe Demirtürk from the Turkish Association of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases said chronic hepatitis B and C infections make up the most frequent cause of liver transplants in Turkey. In a written statement on Wednesday, Demirtürk said Turkey still “likely” had some undiagnosed 3.5 million hepatitis B patients and 750,000 hepatitis C patients. She said Turkey made a “revolution” in the treatment of viral infection by including antiviral medication for hepatitis C treatment to social security coverage in 2016. “These orally-taken drugs can eliminate hepatitis C through an average eight-week treatment,” she added. “Hundreds of hepatitis C patients were fully cured since 2016 thanks to these drugs, which have no serious side effects and are easy to use,” she said. “Besides, they end the risk of patients to remain a host for the disease,” Demirtürk stated.
In the meantime, the world is facing a new outbreak of unexplained acute hepatitis infections affecting children, according to the WHO. The infection does not appear to belong to any of the known five types of hepatitis viruses, WHO said in a statement on the occasion of World Hepatitis Day.
British researchers reported a breakthrough Monday in mysterious hepatitis cases affecting young children, finding the serious liver condition was linked to co-infection of two common viruses, but not the coronavirus. WHO has reported at least 1,010 probable cases, including 46 that required transplants and 22 deaths from the illness dating back to last October.
Previous theories had centered on a spike in commonly found adenovirus infections behind the cases. But in two new studies carried out independently and simultaneously in Scotland and London, scientists found another virus, AAV2 (adeno-associated virus 2), played a significant role and was present in 96% of all patients examined. AAV2 is not normally known to cause disease and cannot replicate itself without another "helper" virus being present. Both teams concluded that co-infection with either AAV2 and an adenovirus, or sometimes the herpes virus HHV6, offered the best explanation for the severe liver disease. "The presence of the AAV2 virus is associated with unexplained hepatitis in children," said infectious disease professor Emma Thomson of the University of Glasgow, who led the Scottish paper, in a statement. But she also cautioned it was not yet certain whether AAV2 was causing the disease or was rather a biomarker for underlying adenovirus infection that is harder to detect but was the main pathogen.